Thyroid cancer—a growth of the cells in the endocrine gland in the lower neck—is the most common type of endocrine cancer. We understand, though, that its being common doesn’t make a diagnosis any less frightening, and we’re here to help. There are four main types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary and follicular thyroid cancer - Making up 80-90% of all thyroid cancers, these are slow-growing cancers that can often be completely cured when caught and treated early.
- Medullary thyroid cancer - Making up 5-10% of all thyroid cancers, this type affects the thyroid’s C cells and can be treated successfully when caught early.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer - Making up 1%-2% of all thyroid cancer, this type affects the follicular cells, but the cells grow quickly and are very invasive.
- Hurthle cell cancer - Making up 3% of all thyroid cancer, this type affects thyroid’s follicular cells, with 25% spreading to lymph nodes in the neck.
Fortunately, more than 90% of thyroid nodules are benign. If you have any of these symptoms, though, talk to your doctor to get the care you need:
- Enlarged lump in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- A harsh sound when breathing (stridor)
A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing thyroid cancer. Some of the factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing it include:
- Exposure to radiation
- Family history (especially for medullary thyroid cancer)
- Other thyroid conditions (chronic goiter, iodine deficiency)
- Women are also 3x more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men
If your doctor feels a growth on your gland they will need to perform more tests, these tests can include:
- Imaging tests - The most frequent test is an ultrasound which uses sound waves to create pictures of the thyroid.
- Biopsy - An ultrasound is performed to find the nodule and guide the doctor performing the test. A small needle is used to collect cells from the nodule. These cells are then looked at under a microscope to look for changes.
- Genetic testing - If the results from the biopsy are unclear they may send the cells for genetic testing. This can be done from the cells that were collected during the biopsy. Extra studies will be performed to look for genetic changes in the cells.
- Surgery - Most thyroid cancers are treated with surgery. Your doctor may remove part or all of your thyroid gland. If all of your gland is removed you will need to take thyroid hormone in the form of a pill every day for the rest of your life. This is managed by checking bloodwork 1-2 times a year.
- Radioactive Iodine - Depending on the size of the cancer you may need additional treatment in the form of radioactive iodine. This is a pill or liquid that you swallow. This is performed by a special doctor that we will refer you to. The iodine will help to kill any remaining thyroid cells, but does not affect other cells in your body.
- External beam radiation - This uses high doses of X-rays or radiation to kill cancer cells. This is performed by a radiation doctor. This type of treatment is not common for thyroid cancer, but may be needed depending on the type of cancer you have.
- Chemotherapy - Medicine that is given to you through your vein to kill cancer cells. This is rarely needed in thyroid cancer, but may be used depending on the type of cancer you have.