What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells that starts in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck just above the collarbone. The gland secretes vital hormones that regulate several body functions such as the heart rate and energy utilization rate by the body, all of which determine your metabolism. Thyroid hormones also influence body growth and development in children. Thyroid cancer affects about 12,000 men and 33,000 women each year in the United States. It kills around 900 men and 1,000 women each year in the United States. It is one of the few cancers that affect women three times more than men.
- Papillary thyroid cancer: Around 80 percent of thyroid cancers are of this type. This cancer generally affects people between the ages of 30 to 50 years and is highly curable. It is slow-growing cancer that responds well to therapy.
- Follicular thyroid cancer: It generally affects people older than 50 years. It may cause up to 15 percent of thyroid cancer cases. This cancer spreads rapidly making treatment more difficult. Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers arise from the follicular cells that produce and store the thyroid hormones.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This cancer generally affects people older than 60 years. It grows and spreads rapidly.
- Medullary thyroid cancer: This cancer originates from a specific type of thyroid cells called parafollicular or C-cells.
- Other rare types of thyroid cancer: They include cancers such as thyroid lymphoma and thyroid sarcoma.
What are the warning signs of thyroid cancer?
The warning signs of thyroid cancer include:
- A lump or swelling in the neck (generally seen on one side of the neck)
- Hoarseness or changes in the voice that progress or do not go away
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Breathing difficulties
- Pain in front of the neck that may radiate to the ears
- Persistent cough with no obvious cause such as cold
The above symptoms may also be seen in several non-cancerous conditions that are perhaps more common than thyroid cancer. You must, however, consult your doctor to be sure about the diagnosis. Time is money as far as cancer is concerned. Early diagnosis can help you achieve better and faster recovery. When cancer progresses, there may be other symptoms also such as:
What causes thyroid cancer?
The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown. Thyroid cancer results when any of the various cells in the gland get an abnormal change in their genetic material (mutation). This causes the abnormal cells to grow and divide uncontrollably causing thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is generally diagnosed at an earlier age in women (40-50 years) than in men (60-70 years). Thyroid cancer may also be seen in children.
Some factors may make getting thyroid cancer more likely:
- Excessive radiation exposure around the neck area, especially at a younger age for purposes such as radiation therapy or imaging studies
- Inheriting certain genes that make you more vulnerable to get thyroid cancer such as the faulty RET gene or faulty APC gene
- Female gender
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
- A history of thyroid cancer or other thyroid diseases in a first-degree relative (such as mother, father, sibling, or child)
- Specific types of thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
- A diet low in iodine
- Being overweight or obese