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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a malignant growth in the thyroid, a gland that is located in the throat just below the larynx and regulates growth and energy use. Thyroid cancer is considered to be among the most common malignancies of the endocrine system but is a rare form of invasive cancer.

What causes thyroid cancer?

The cause of most cases of thyroid cancer is unknown, although there are cases (medullary carcinoma) where a genetic link has been established.

Who is at risk of having thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer can affect anyone, no matter what age or gender. However, there are several factors that put some individuals at greater risk of developing the disease. These include exposure to radiation, persistent enlargement of the thyroid gland, a history of the disease within the family and gender (studies show that the disease affects more women than men). Studies also show that there are more thyroid cancer victims within the range of 25 to 65 years of age.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

There are typically no symptoms for the early stages of thyroid cancer. In a number of cases, the disease starts out as a “cold” nodule on the thyroid gland and is usually discovered during a routine physical examination. Only about 20 percent of cold nodules, however, eventually develop into cancer.

At the later stages, thyroid cancer symptoms vary according to type and malignancy. Among the common symptoms, however, are swelling of the throat, hoarseness of the voice or a change in voice quality, a stubborn cough and gastrointestinal problems such as constipation or diarrhea.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

A doctor checking for thyroid cancer will take the patient’s detailed medical history and require a physical examination and other tests such as blood tests, ultrasound, vocal cord examination and tissue biopsy.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

The type, location and severity of thyroid cancer, along with the patient’s age and health, will determine the kind of treatment that is most suitable for the patient. The doctor may recommend any of the following options:

  • Surgery (thyroidectomy). This involves the partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland and may include nearby lymph nodes. This is the most common treatment for follicular, medullary and papillary carcinomas.
  • Radiation therapy. This procedure uses radioactive iodine to kill thyroid hormone-producing cells. For anaplastic and medullary carcinomas and other tumors that do not respond to radioactive iodine, external radiation may be used.
  • Hormone therapy. The growth of thyroid cells is inhibited through high doses of thyroid hormone replacement (thyroxine) post-surgery.
  • Chemotherapy. Cancer cells are killed through the use of chemical agents or drugs. This method is employed for thyroid cancer cases that do not involve thyroid hormone-producing cells.

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