Thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid, which is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam's apple.
Although the thyroid gland is small, it produces hormones that regulate every aspect of metabolism, from the heart rate to how quickly one burns calories. Sometimes one may develop one or more solid or fluid-filled lumps called nodules in the thyroid.
Most of these are benign causing no symptoms. But small percentages are malignant. Presence of nodules in those below the age of 20 is a matter of concern and indicates strong potential for malignancy. Thyroid cancer may lead to serious complications.
Thyroid cancer is classified into four kinds namely; papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic. Most common occurrence is seen in the form of papillary and follicular tumors. They grow slowly and may recur, but are generally not fatal in patients under 45 years of age. Medullary tumors have a good prognosis if restricted to the thyroid gland but the chances of survival decrease with the spreading of cancerous cells beyond the organ. Anaplastic tumors are fast-growing and do not respond well to therapy.
The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown. Each year in the US, 14,000 women and 4,600 men are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Research has shown that females are 2 to 3 times more susceptible towards thyroid cancer than men. Also, Caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than African Americans. Factors influencing the probability of developing thyroid cancer are exposure to radiation, genetic causes and lesser intake of iodine in the diet. With the incidence of this cancer, the patient may experience symptoms such as a lump in front of the neck, hoarseness of voice, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, difficulty in swallowing and breathing and pain in the anterior region of the neck. Blood tests, imaging and fine needle biopsy outline the customary procedures of diagnosis. After identification, evaluating the stage of the cancerous growth is the next step taken up by the oncologist. The results of these diagnostic tests help to determine the size and location of the thyroid cancer and whether it has spread to other areas of the body. The only exception lies with anaplastic thyroid cancer. This form of thyroid cancer does not have a staging system owing to its rapid growth in contrast to the other types of thyroid cancers.
The prognosis is often excellent for thyroid cancer as it is one of the most curable of all cancers. The most common types of thyroid cancer can often be completely removed with surgery. However, medullary and anaplastic varieties are difficult to treat as they involve the lymph nodes and spread to the other parts of the body, brain being no exception. The process by virtue of which cancerous cells spread from one organ to the tissues of other body organs is known as metastasis. Thyroid cancer may be responsible for secondary brain tumors.
There are two types of brain tumors: primary brain tumors and metastatic or secondary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors can be cancerous or non cancerous. A non cancerous primary brain tumor is life threatening when it compromises vital structures. The secondary brain tumors are matastatic in nature and originate from cancer cells that have spread from other parts of the body such as the thyroid gland.
Cancer can be dangerous in any form but after metastasis to any organ, the chances of survival start reducing.
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