Thyroid cancer is one of the rarer cancers and not in the list of the top 10 common cancers.

Compared with other common types of cancer, thyroid cancer occurs more frequently in younger patients. Approximately 65% of cases occur in people under age of 55. Women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland normally located in the front of the neck. This gland’s job is to make thyroid hormone, which is secreted into the blood and then carried to every organ in the body.

Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy and keeps the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working efficiently.

The American Cancer Society estimates 52,070 people in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019.

CausesIn most patients, we don’t know why thyroid cancer develops. Thyroid cancer is more common in people with a history of exposure to high doses of radiation or have a family history of thyroid cancer.

Also, exposure to radioactivity released during nuclear disasters (1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, or 2011 in Fukushima, Japan) has also been linked to an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer.

SymptomsIn early stages, there might not be any symptoms. In these cases, thyroid cancer is discovered during a routine physical exam by a doctor or during a CT scan of the neck or chest done for another condition. Patients seldom might have neck pain or hoarseness symptoms.

The most common sign of thyroid cancer is an unusual lump, nodule or swelling in the neck. It is important to remember that most nodules on the thyroid are usually benign, meaning not cancerous. Regardless, it is always best to have your doctor check any abnormality.

Tests thyroid cancer

Blood tests generally aren’t effective in diagnosing thyroid cancer, and commonly performed thyroid blood tests are normal, even when there is cancer.

Your doctor will determine the best next step to take when a nodule is found. Ultrasound, thyroid scan, CT scan or PET scan are available options your physician may use.

Fine Needle aspiration is a biopsy usually performed to collect a sample of thyroid cells. Most often this is useful in diagnosing cancer. Advanced genome testing is also available in cases where more detail is required to diagnose or treat thyroid cancer.

Types of thyroid cancer

Follicular cell cancers of the thyroid are known as differentiated thyroid cancers. There are usually three types: papillary, follicular or hurthle cell cancers. The most common type, about 80 percent, is papillary cell cancer.

The medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) comes from a different cell in the thyroid called the C cell. MTC is even less common than the others. MTC can be familial.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most rare form of thyroid cancer that is also aggressive.

Types of treatment:

Surgery: This is the most common treatment. Often the whole thyroid gland is removed. In some cases, smaller-size cancer is confined to the gland, and only half of the gland is removed. Sometimes lymph nodes in the neck are removed to check for the spread of cancer.

Radioactive iodine: This treatment is offered for patients after surgery. Usually your endocrinologist determines the risk of recurrence and if this treatment is needed after surgery. Most thyroid cancers can be successfully treated with surgery alone or surgery followed by radioactive iodine.

External radiation: Rarely used, this treatment can be done when surgery can’t be done.

Chemotherapy: Mostly this is used in advanced cancers.

Follow-upPeriodic follow-up is always recommended. Usually follow-up is done with ultrasound, blood tests or scans depending on the type of cancer and the stage.

Fortunately, it is very unlikely you will die from thyroid cancer. Most treatment plans are aimed at preventing it from coming back.

Dr. Meenakshi Pande is an endocrinologist at MUSC Health-Endocrinology, located on the MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center campus. She is accepting new patients. For more information, call 843-673-7560 or visit MUSChealth.org/florence.

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