Cancer comes in all shapes and sizes, affecting the body in different ways. There are more than two dozen areas where cancer can develop in the human body, including thyroid gland, which is shaped like a butterfly and located in the front of the neck.
The thyroid has a huge impact on the body, regulating its metabolism, heartbeat, breathing, temperature, cholesterol levels and mood. More than 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder, and nearly 60,000 Americans are affected by thyroid cancer each year.
Thyroid cancer develops when abnormal cells begin to grow in the thyroid gland. The disease is often caught early, and has a five-year survival rate of 98 percent.
Women are more likely to have thyroid cancer than men, accounting for 75 percent of thyroid cancer cases. Although this type of cancer can occur in any age group, it is most common after age 30. The risk of thyroid cancer increases with age, but young people are not exempt.
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The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump in the front of the neck, or swelling in the neck. Other symptoms include pain in the neck and ears, trouble swallowing, trouble breathing or constant wheezing, a hoarse voice, and a frequent cough that is not related to a cold.
However, some people may not present any symptoms, yet doctors may find a lump or nodule in the neck during a routine physical exam.
There are four main types of thyroid cancer, which are classified by how similar they look to normal thyroid cells and by the type of cell from which they develop. The most common type is papillary thyroid cancer, accounting for about 80 percent of cases.
Papillary carcinomas often grow slowly but can spread to lymph nodes in the neck, or into the lungs and bones. However, it is generally treatable with a good prognosis. Your physician will first determine which type of thyroid cancer you have, before proceeding with treatment.
If a lump in the neck is found, the physician may perform a biopsy on the thyroid gland to check for cancer cells. During this procedure, a small piece of thyroid tissue is removed, often with a needle, and then examined to determine whether it is cancer.
If the results are not clear, surgery may be required to remove the thyroid gland. Treatment for thyroid cancer will depend on your age, the stage of the cancer, and the type of thyroid cancer that you have.
Thyroid cancer rarely needs external beam radiation therapy or chemotherapy, and is often treated with surgery and radioactive iodine. If the thyroid gland is removed, you will probably be required to take thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of your life. This will help regulate your metabolism and body functions.
If you experience symptoms of thyroid cancer, contact your physician to undergo an examination. Although there is no recommended screening for thyroid cancer, having an annual checkup with your physician can help catch this disease in its early stages.
Dr. Monty Metcalfe is with KentuckyOne Health Hematology and Oncology Associates.