There is not much attention given to the thyroid gland. This small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck measures about 6 centimeters long and 2.5 centimeters wide and boasts important functions on the body.
The thyroid gland produces the thyroid hormone with the primary function of regulating some of the most vital processes including metabolism, heartbeat, temperature, and mood to name a few. To date, there are more than 30 million Americans who suffer from a form of thyroid disorder, 60,00 of which are diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
If you’re young and healthy, you may not be all too concerned about cancer. However bear in mind that thyroid cancer may develop at any age. Many young adults have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer during routine annual physical checkups. Here are things to watch out for about thyroid cancer:
- Two out of three victims are under the age of 55
Although cancer among young people are rare, most patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer are below the age of 55. About two percent of patients are children and teenagers.
Thyroid cancer is considered the number one cause of cancer in women between the ages of 15 and 29. It is the second most common cause of cancer for women ages between 29 and 39.
- Women are more at risk of developing cancer of the thyroid gland
About 75% of all thyroid cancer cases are women. There is a correlation between increased risk for thyroid cancer for a women during puberty and menopause years. Studies suggest that estrogen is a growth factor in the development of benign and malignant thyroid cells, thus further suggesting that gender plays a crucial role in the prevalence of thyroid nodules and cancer growth among women.
- Symptoms can be quite sneaky
Most of the patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer do not suffer from symptoms, but may experience neck discomfort or feel a lump around this region.
Other symptoms related to thyroid cancer are hoarseness of voice and difficulty in swallowing.
- There is more than one type of thyroid cancer
About 80% of thyroid cancer cases are categorized as papillary carcinomas. It is the most common and least aggressive form of thyroid cancer. These cancer cells grow at a slow rate and usually develop in one of the two lobes that make up the thyroid gland. Although papillary cancer most often invades the lymph nodes around the thyroid region, they can be removed quite easily and are not fatal in nature.
There are several types of papillary carcinoma. For one, papillary-follicular cancer is a unique type of cancer that can be found in about 25% of patients, It is more aggressive in nature and features a higher rate of central nodal metastasis. When found early this papillary carcinoma bears good prognosis.
- There are also less common types of thyroid cancer
The next most common form of thyroid cancer is follicular carcinoma which happens in about 1 out of ten patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It is most common in countries
where people do not have much iodine in their diets. While these cancers may not be as aggressive, they can spread to other parts of the body too, usually in the bones and lungs.
The third most common form of thyroid cancer is called medullary thyroid carcinoma which happens to about 4 percent of all cases. This cancer exclusively grows in C cells. This cancer is easy to manage and treat when detected in its early stages of development.
- The rare and most aggressive form of thyroid cancer
Anaplastic carcinoma is a rare thyroid cancer subtype that occurs in 2 percent of all cases. This condition develops from an existing papillary or follicular cancer, and most commonly spreads quickly into the neck and other parts of the body. Anaplastic carcinoma is very rare and is difficult to treat.
Thyroid lymphoma is yet another rare type of thyroid cancer that begins to destroy immune system cells found in the thyroid gland. It typically occurs in older adults.
- Thyroid cancer risk factors
While the main cause of thyroid cancer development is still unknown, there are a few risk factors link to the condition.
Radiation around the neck may be a possible cause of proliferation of cancer cells.
Other risk factors include power plant accidents, weapons testing, low-iodine diet, family history, and genetic predisposition to thyroid-related conditions.
- Ultrasound is ordered to diagnose thyroid cancer
The incidence of thyroid cancer has doubled since the 70s and this is primarily due to early detection and increased awareness about the disease.
It was during the 1970s that thyroid ultrasound became the primary diagnostic exam for those who have swelling or lump in the neck. This is performed to evaluate the size and other characteristics of the mass in the neck. It is a helpful diagnostic tool to help in biopsy once the localized mass or lump is detected.
- Surgery is primary treatment strategy for thyroid cancer patients
Surgery is the most common form of treatment among thyroid cancer patients in its early stages. Thyroid lobectomy is the removal of one or two lobes of the thyroid gland also called thyroidectomy. The associated risks in getting thyroid surgery include accidental damage to the nerves, damaged vocal cords, vocal cord paralysis, hoarseness, soft voice, and difficulty of breathing to name a few.
- Lifetime of medication post thyroidectomy
If a cancer patient undergoes thyroidectomy, he or she will need to take medication to replace the thyroid hormones for the rest of his or her lifetime. This is done to ensure that the body maintains its thyroid hormones to continue normal metabolic functions.
Hormone replacement therapy also helps in stopping remaining cancer cells from further developing by reducing TSH levels.