The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that lies just above the collar bone at the front of the throat. This gland secretes hormones that regulate the body's metabolism, thereby affecting every cell in the human body. Thyroid cancer is a malignant tumor or growth located within the thyroid gland.
It is the most common kind of endocrine cancer. In the last few years, thyroid cancer seems to be on the rise in the United States. Out of the 20,000 to 30,000 cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed every year in the US, three quarters are women. Fortunately, the disease is uncommon in children.
Thyroid cancer can be categorized into four types, namely papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic. Out of these four variants, the papillary and follicular cancers yield first-rate prognosis. The risk factors associated with thyroid cancer incorporate a family history of thyroid cancer, gender as women show a higher incidence of thyroid cancer, age with a higher probability of incidence in people over 40 and prior exposure of the thyroid gland to radiation. The symptoms of thyroid cancer are not very well pronounced during the formative stages. However, as the cancer grows, symptoms become visually apparent in the form of a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty in speaking, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty in swallowing or breathing and pain in the throat or neck.
Thyroid cancer can either spread locally infesting nearby tissues, airways, muscles in the neck or it may spread to local lymph glands, lungs, liver and bones. Another organ where anaplastic thyroid cancer has a tendency to spread is the Adrenal gland. These glands are located above the kidneys and produce special hormones. Progression in the field of medicine has provided diverse methods of treatment comprising of surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, external beam radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In most cases, patients undergo surgery to remove most of the thyroid gland and are treated with thyroid hormone replacement therapy. For those with papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, the dose of thyroid hormone replacement is usually high enough to suppress the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) well below the range that is normal for someone not diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This helps to prevent the growth of cancer cells while providing essential thyroid hormone to the body.
The prognosis of thyroid cancer is very motivating. The rate of survival with thyroid cancer depends on the type and extent of the cancer at the time of the initial diagnosis. When detected in the early stages, the chances of cure are very high. In cases where the malignancy takes a fatal turn, survival could vary from months in patients with anaplastic cancer to many years in patients with papillary cancers. The terminal life span is influenced by the extent of cancer, overall condition of the patient as well as the response to the treatments.
The rate of recurrence can be up to 30 percent and recurrences can crop up even decades after the initial diagnosis. Monitoring is mandatory throughout the patient’s lifetime. Therefore, it is imperative that patients get regular follow-up examinations to rule out the possibility of reemergence.
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