The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones that regulate the body's metabolic rate, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and weight.
In general, thyroid cancer shows few or no symptoms during the initial stages of the disease. As the cancer develops, the following symptoms may be observed:
- A lump on the neck (nodule);
- A noticeable change or hoarseness in the voice;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Sore throat and/or neck;
- Swollen lymph nodes on the neck.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Treatment and prognosis are determined by the type of thyroid cancer diagnosed. There are two principal forms (accounting for 80% of cases), papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer. They tend to appear in people under the age of 40, particularly women.
The two rarest forms of thyroid cancer are:
- Medullary thyroid cancer: The rarest form of thyroid cancer (accounting for only 3% of thyroid cancer cases). Its progression is much slower, making it easier to treat. Additionally, 25% of people diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer have a family history of the disease. The cancer secretes calcitonin, which allows it to be detected via blood tests.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: A rare form of thyroid cancer (accounting for 7% of thyroid cancer diagnoses). It is very aggressive and difficult to treat, notably due to the high risk of metastasis.
Thyroid cancer is provoked by genetic modifications (mutations) in the cells of the thyroid gland. These mutations cause the cells to multiply rapidly and lengthen their life spans. The abnormal or cancerous cells clump together, forming a tumor. The cancerous cells may then spread to neighboring tissue and eventually throughout the entire body. For the moment, researchers still don’t know exactly what triggers these genetic mutations.
Still, certain risk factors seem to predispose some individuals to thyroid cancer. Having a benign (non-cancerous) thyroid illness, inheriting a defective gene, or exposure to radiation are among principal risk factors for this disease.
The most prescribed treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery. The surgeon attempts to remove the thyroid gland in its entirety (ablation), as well as the surrounding lymph nodes.
The patient must then take a hormone substitute treatment for life, which is prescribed to compensate for the absence of the thyroid gland.
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy are rarely used to treat thyroid cancer.
Sources: American Cancer Association - What is Thyroid Cancer?
Published Feb 19, 2019
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