September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Thyroid cancer diagnoses have increased recently according to the American Cancer Society. More than 60,000 are likely to be diagnosed in 2015. Thyroid cancer is often treated successfully when detected early. To increase your chances for early detection, take time this month to raise your awareness about thyroid cancer.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid gland plays a central role in many bodily functions. It produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and metabolism. Located in the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple, the thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly.
The thyroid gland is composed primarily of two types of cells, follicular cells and C cells. Follicular cells produce thyroid hormones. Overproduction and underproduction of thyroid hormones can result in symptoms including sleeplessness, hunger, weigh fluctuation and fatigue. C Cells produce a hormone called calcitonin that helps control calcium use by the body.
How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?
Many thyroid cancers can be detected and diagnosed at an early stage through routine check-ups and awareness of symptoms. If you recognize any symptoms of thyroid cancer, schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. These include:
- Lump in the neck.
- Pain in the neck.
- Swelling in the neck.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Persistent cough without other cold symptoms.
Many of these symptoms may also be caused by benign and non-cancerous conditions. Your physician will likely rule out other causes before recommending imaging or a biopsy.
What are the Different Types of Thyroid Cancer?
Differentiated thyroid cancers are one category of thyroid cancer. Differentiated thyroid cancer cells appear similar to normal thyroid cells under a microscope. There are several kinds of differentiated thyroid cancers.
- Papillary carcinoma, 80 percent of thyroid cancers.
- Follicular carcinoma, 10 percent of thyroid cancers.
- Hurthle cell carcinoma, 3 percent of thyroid cancers.
T ghere is a group of thyroid cancers that are less differentiated from healthy thyroid cells.
- Medullary thyroid cancer, 4 percent of thyroid cancers.
- Anaplastic carcinoma, 2 percent of thyroid cancers.
- Thyroid lymphoma, less than 1 percent of thyroid cancers.
- Thyroid sarcoma, less than 1 percent of thyroid cancers.
Although many thyroid cancers can be treated successfully when detected early, the stage and type of cancer will definitely affect prognosis and treatment.
Thyroid cancers can often be cured if they have remained confined to the thyroid and nearby lymph nodes. There are many treatment options that can be used separately or together as part of a treatment plan. These include surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, external radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Thyroidectomy refers to surgery that removes the thyroid gland. This is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. During this procedure, the entire thyroid gland is surgically removed. If cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the nodes are also removed.
Radioactive Iodine Treatment
The thyroid gland normally absorbs iodine within your body. Radioactive iodine is administered in pill or liquid form. It transports doses of radiation to the thyroid gland, destroying the normal thyroid gland along with the cancer. It is often used in combination with surgery to treat remaining cancer cells.
During radiation therapy, a medical device outside the body is used to direct rays of radiation toward a thyroid tumor. Radiation helps to destroy and slow the growth of thyroid cancer cells. In thyroid cancer patients, radioactive iodine treatment is preferred over this type of radiation therapy, called external beam radiation therapy. However, not all thyroid cancers respond to radioactive iodine treatment.
Chemotherapy refers to drugs used specifically to treat cancer. However, relatively few thyroid cancer diagnoses will need to be treated with chemotherapy. It is most frequently used in patients with thyroid cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body and in combination with radiation therapy in anaplastic thyroid cancer patients.
The Integrated Care Institute team is committed to working with our patients from their diagnosis through treatment and follow-up to provide high-quality, multidisciplinary cancer care. If you are a thyroid cancer patient or if you have questions about thyroid cancer, please contact us.