Thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. This gland produces hormones that regulate your metabolism. Thyroid hormones also help control your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. Thyroid cancer, a type of endocrine cancer, is generally highly treatable with an excellent cure rate.
What are the types of thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is classified based on the type of cells from which cancer grows. Thyroid cancer types include:
Papillary: Up to 80% of all thyroid cancers are papillary. This cancer type grows slowly. Although papillary thyroid cancer often spreads to lymph nodes in the neck, the disease responds very well to treatment.
Follicular: Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for up to 15% of thyroid cancer diagnoses. This cancer is more likely to spread to bones and organs, like the lungs.
Medullary: About 2% of thyroid cancers are medullary. A quarter of people with medullary thyroid cancer have a family history of the disease. A faulty gene may be to blame.
Anaplastic: This aggressive thyroid cancer is the most complex type to treat. It can grow quickly and often spreads into surrounding tissue and other parts of the body.
What causes thyroid cancer?
Experts aren’t sure why some cells become cancerous (malignant) and attack the thyroid. Certain factors, such as radiation exposure, a diet low in iodine, and faulty genes, can increase risk.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
You or your healthcare provider might feel a lump or growth in your neck called a thyroid nodule. Don’t panic if you have a thyroid nodule. Most nodules are benign (not cancer). Only about three out of 20 thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous (malignant).Other signs of thyroid cancer include:
Difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Loss of voice.
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?
If you have an enlarged thyroid nodule or other signs of thyroid cancer, your healthcare provider may order one or more of these tests:
Blood tests: A thyroid blood test checks hormone levels and gauges whether your thyroid is functioning correctly.
Biopsy: During a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, your healthcare provider removes cells from your thyroid to test for cancer cells.
Radioiodine scan: This test can detect thyroid cancer and determine if cancer has spread.
Imaging scans: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can detect thyroid cancer and cancer spread.
How is thyroid cancer managed or treated?
Treatments for thyroid cancer depend on the tumor size and whether cancer has spread or include thyroid cancer drugs. Treatments include:
Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. Depending on the tumor’s size and location, your surgeon may remove part of the thyroid gland or all of the gland.
Radioiodine therapy: With radioiodine therapy, you swallow a pill or liquid containing a higher dose of radioactive iodine than what’s used in a diagnostic radioiodine scan.
Radiation therapy: Radiation kills cancer cells and stops them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine to deliver intense beams of energy directly to the tumor site.
Chemotherapy: Intravenous or oral chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells and stop cancer growth. Very few patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer will ever need chemotherapy.
Hormone therapy: This treatment blocks the release of hormones that can cause cancer to spread or come back.