Thyroid cancer is a less common form of cancer. Improved imaging and testing have led to increasingly accurate diagnoses.
Nearly 44,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. Of those, around 2,200 deaths occur. It affects three times more women than men each year.
Thyroid cancer has different types, symptoms, and causes. Medications can help in the overall treatment of this condition.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland found in the front part of the neck.
The quarter-sized shape forms two lobes (the left and the right). These lobes are connected by the isthmus (a thin gland piece).
When functioning normally, the thyroid works to regulate the body’s hormones. It helps with metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature, and blood pressure.
However, it malfunctions when cancer cells begin to develop in the thyroid. How it affects the body depends on the type of thyroid cancer and how rapidly it progresses.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are different classifications of cells found in the thyroid. Each cell type can lead to specific cancers identified through testing tissue samples. From this information, doctors can determine the best course of treatment.
The primary cell types found in the thyroid are:
- Follicular cells (process iodine to make hormones)
- C cells (create calcitonin which regulates calcium)
- Lymphocytes (immune system cells)
- Stromal cells (support cells)
Thyroid cancer types include:
- Differentiated Thyroid Cancers – A general classification of cancers that grow in the follicular cells. Microscopically they have similarities to healthy cells. Yet, the treatment options are different for each of the most common types, which include:
- Papillary: This common thyroid cancer affects those aged 30-50. It is treatable in most cases. This cancer type only spreads through the body in rare instances when it is more aggressive.
- Follicular: A less common thyroid cancer in those over 50 affects the lungs and bones.
- Hurthle cell: Typically aggressive, this thyroid cancer is a rare type. It often spreads throughout the neck and into the rest of the body.
- Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer – This rare thyroid cancer is usually found in those over 60. It is a fast grower with more severe symptoms than other thyroid cancers. Though resistant to treatment, this condition’s progress slows when treated.
- Medullary Thyroid Cancer – Formed in the C cells, blood cells can determine medullary cancer. It can be linked to the hereditary RET gene and multiple endocrine neoplasias, type 2.
- Rare Thyroid Cancers – There are a few other rare forms of thyroid cancer. For example, from the immune system cells, thyroid lymphoma can develop. Also, thyroid sarcoma starts within the thyroid’s connective tissue cells.
Thyroid cancer does not have one exact cause known at this time. But there are specific indicators that may increase the likelihood of illness. Knowing those possibilities can help identify individual risk.
- Genetics (there are strong links to hereditary causes)
- Radiation exposure (especially at a young age)
- Iodine intake (too much and too little)
- Low vegetable consumption
- Gender (affects more females than males)
People with thyroid cancer often experience some (or all) of the following symptoms. If you have any of these, please consult with a medical professional:
- Neck and throat pain
- Neck swelling (including swollen lymph nodes)
- Lump (or nodule) visible or felt under the skin
- Hoarse voice (or changes in voice)
- Hard time getting a full breath
- Unexplained drop in weight
- Extreme tiredness
- Swallowing difficulties
There are various treatment options for thyroid cancer, including:
- Standard options
- Radiation therapy (or radioactive iodine therapy)
- Thyroid hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
- ‘Watch and wait’ (including follow-up testing)
- New options developing
- Immunotherapy (in studies now)
- Clinical trials
An essential part of treatment for thyroid cancer of every type is medication. Some of the medicines prescribed to treat this condition include: