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Thyroid cancer is a cancerous growth of the thyroid gland.
Tumor - thyroid; Cancer - thyroid
Thyroid cancer can occur in all age groups.
People who have had radiation therapy to the neck are at higher risk. Radiation therapy was commonly used in the 1950s to treat enlarged thymus glands, adenoids and tonsils, and skin disorders. People who received radiation therapy as children are at increased risk for developing thyroid cancer.
Other risk factors are a family history of thyroid cancer and chronic goiter.
There are several types of thyroid cancer:
Note: Symptoms may vary depending on the type of thyroid cancer
A physical examination can reveal a thyroid mass or nodule (usually in the lower part of the front of the neck), or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
Tests for thyroid cancer:
This disease may also affect the results of the following thyroid function tests:
Treatment varies significantly, depending on the type of tumor.
Surgery is usually the treatment of choice, and the entire thyroid gland is usually removed. If the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed during surgery.
Radiation therapy may be performed using external beam (x-ray) radiation or by taking radioactive iodine by mouth. It may be done with or without surgery.
After treatment, you need to take thyroid hormone to replace what your glands used to make. The dose is usually a little higher than what your body needs, which helps keep the cancer from coming back.
If the cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be used, but this is only effective for a small number of patients.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group made up of people who share common experiences and problems. See: Cancer - support group
Anaplastic carcinoma has the worst outcome of all the types of thyroid cancer. It is usually fatal despite aggressive treatment.
Follicular carcinomas are often fast growing and may invade other tissues, but the outlook is still good -- most patients are cured.
The outcome with medullary carcinoma varies. Women under age 40 have a better chance of a good outcome.
Papillary carcinomas are usually slower growing. Most people are cured and have a normal life expectancy.
Patients who have treatment for thyroid cancer must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives.
Call your health care provider if you notice a lump in your neck.
Also call if your symptoms get worse during treatment.
There is no known prevention. Awareness of risk (such as previous radiation therapy to the neck) can allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Ladenson P, Kim M. Thyroid. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 244.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Guidelines in Oncology 2010: Thyroid Cancer. Version 1.2010.