Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. It is important to know about this type of cancer because early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes.
Thyroid cancer is often called a “silent disease” because it can develop without any noticeable symptoms. This can make it difficult to detect and diagnose, and the cancer can continue to grow and spread before it is discovered.
Thyroid cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the thyroid gland grow and divide uncontrollably, forming a tumor. The cause of thyroid cancer is still unknown, but some risk factors such as exposure to radiation, family history of thyroid cancer, and certain genetic syndromes may increase the risk of developing the disease.
Some risk factors for thyroid cancer include:
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men.
- Age: Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but it is more common in people over the age of 40.
- Radiation exposure: Exposure to high levels of radiation, especially during childhood, increases the risk of thyroid cancer.
- Family history: Having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with thyroid cancer increases the risk of developing the disease.
- Genetic syndromes: Some genetic syndromes such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) and familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC) increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
In the early stages, thyroid cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the tumor grows, some signs and symptoms may include:
- A lump or swelling in the neck
- Pain in the neck or throat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
There are four stages of thyroid cancer, from stage I (early stage) to stage IV (advanced stage). The stage of thyroid cancer is based on the size of the tumor, how far it has spread, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health. Some common treatments for thyroid cancer include:
- Surgery: The most common treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery to remove the tumor and some or all of the thyroid gland.
- Radioactive iodine therapy: This treatment involves taking a radioactive iodine pill that targets and kills any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
- External radiation therapy: This treatment uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent thyroid cancer, but some steps you can take to reduce your risk include:
- Avoiding exposure to radiation: Limit exposure to unnecessary medical imaging tests that use radiation and avoid unnecessary radiation exposure in the environment.
- Getting regular check-ups: Regular thyroid exams can help detect any changes or abnormalities in the thyroid gland.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may help reduce the risk of cancer.
Thyroid cancer is a serious disease that requires early detection and proper treatment. Knowing the risk factors, signs and symptoms, stages, and treatments of thyroid cancer can help individuals take the necessary steps to reduce their risk and seek medical attention if needed.