The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones used to regulate your body’s metabolism. Though relatively rare, thyroid cancer occurs when abnormal cells multiply in the thyroid gland.
Fortunately, patients with thyroid cancer frequently do well because it is usually detected early and responds well to treatment. It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you experience any symptoms of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
There are several signs that might indicate thyroid cancer. These include a lump or swelling in the neck; neck, throat or ear pain; difficulty swallowing and/or breathing; hoarseness; chronic cough; swollen lymph nodes and wheezing.
These don’t necessarily indicate the presence of thyroid cancer, which is fairly uncommon, but a physician should investigate to be on the safe side. Your doctor may perform a biopsy in order to diagnose or rule out cancer.
There are different types of thyroid cancer.
- Papillary, the most common, forms in the follicular cells that produce thyroid hormone. It usually strikes people aged 30 to 50.
- Follicular thyroid cancer originates in the same region, but typically affects those over 50.
- Medullary thyroid cancer forms in the C cells that produce calcitonin.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, but grows rapidly and is difficult to treat. It usually occurs in people over the age of 60.
Risk factors for thyroid cancer include being female, exposure to high levels of radiation and genetics – especially having family members who have experienced thyroid disease or cancer.
Thyroid Cancer Treatments
Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type and stage of your cancer, your age and your overall health. Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland or the lymph nodes in the neck is the most common form of treatment. When this is done, you’ll have to take synthetic thyroid medication for the rest of your life.
You may also receive radioactive iodine treatment to destroy remaining cancerous tissue. Thyroid-stimulating hormone suppression therapy is used to reduce the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your body, which can prevent future growth of cancerous cells. More advanced thyroid cancers may be treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.