From OHC

October 16, 2013

Thyroid cancer is the eighth most common form of cancer. Those with the disease have malignant cells in their thyroid gland tissues. In 2013, it is estimated by the National Cancer Institute that about 60,200 new cases will be diagnosed.

The thyroid is found at the base of your throat. It produces hormones that control your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.

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Most patients with thyroid cancer are between the ages of 25 and 65, and it occurs three times more frequently in women than in men.

Because of the position of the thyroid, the symptoms of this cancer are all related to the neck or throat. The first and foremost is a lump or swelling primarily in the front of the neck, though it can happen in other parts as well. Some experience pain there, as well as discomfort in the ears. One might also have difficulty swallowing or breathing, and there can be constant wheezing.

Another indication of thyroid cancer is a frequent cough that is not part of a cold.  Your voice might also be hoarse.

Surprisingly, some patients don’t experience any symptoms. Often, a doctor finds a lump or swelling on the neck during a routine exam.

It is not known what the exact causes for thyroid cancer might be. However, scientists do know that it is tied to changes in a person’s DNA. Some of these changes are caused by heredity or a person’s age.

Despite what the cause might be, thyroid cancer can represent a risk to other parts of the body. As the tumor grows, malignant cells can break away and spread, traveling through lymph or blood vessels.

When thyroid cancer is suspected, a physician will try to detect the cancer using blood tests, an ultrasound, or a thyroid scan. A biopsy of the lump may also be ordered, which results in the removal of a small section of tissue through a needle. The tissue is then examined under a microscope to see if there are malignant cells present.

If cancer is found, removal of part or all of the thyroid gland may be necessary. Rarely is chemotherapy or radiation therapy used. The treatment prescribed depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age.

There are four types of thyroid cancer, and they are classified by how the cancer looks under a microscope. In the United States, papillary is the most common form, accounting for 86 percent of all thyroid cancer patients. It grows slowly and if diagnosed early most people can be cured.

Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for about nine percent of thyroid cases, and is also characterized by slow growth. Most people with this type can be treated successfully if it is detected early.

Only about two percent of thyroid cancer patients have the Medullary type. It causes the production of abnormally high levels of calcitonin. It also grows slowly, and the patient can have a successful outcome if it is found and treated before it spreads.

The least common form is Anaplastic. Only one percent of thyroid cancer patients have it. With this type, the cells grow quickly and are difficult to control. Patients with this form of the disease are typically over the age of 60.

For more information about thyroid cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute, the Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association, or our OHC Cancer Database.

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