September 1st was the start of Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, a month that has been deemed as such since 2000. This was started by ThyCa (Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association) in an attempt to raise awareness and encourage regular checkups for early detection and increase research in order to find cures for the various types of thyroid cancer.
It only seems appropriate to delve deeper into this topic and give people a better understanding of the thyroid in general and the various types of cancer that can plague it.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. Though it is small it is a vital part of the body and when it doesn’t function properly, it leaves the individual in a very poor state.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, a collection of glands that secretes the necessary hormones into the circulatory system. It is the thyroid’s job to produce/secrete the thyroid hormones into the blood and carried to every tissue in the body. These hormones, and ultimately the thyroid, control how quickly the body uses energy and makes proteins. It is also involved in regulating the body’s temperature, digestion, and cognitive function.
Simply put, this little gland has a big job.
What is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer, put simply, is cancer that develops from the tissues of the thyroid gland. There are various types of thyroid cancer which include Papillary, Follicular, Medullary, and Anaplastic. Of the four listed, the two most common are Papillary and Follicular.
Papillary carcinoma, being the most common, accounts for approximately 80% of cases. It is considered a slow-growing cancer that develops from follicular cells and, if left untreated, often spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck. Follicular cells are the cells within the thyroid gland that are responsible for creating and secreting the thyroid hormones.
Follicular carcinoma, which accounts for 10-15% of all cases, is slightly more aggressive than Papillary. It too stems from the follicular cells, hence the name, but will rarely spread to the surrounding lymph nodes. Instead, it is more likely to spread to other organs. Follicular carcinoma isn’t very common in the United States, but rather in areas of the world with a low intake of dietary iodine.
Both Papillary and Follicular carcinoma are considered differentiated thyroid cancers. This means that the cancer cells look and act like normal thyroid cells.
What are the Symptoms?
The most common symptom across the board is a lump, nodule, or swelling in the neck. Unfortunately, these may not always be visible and easy to detect, but there is a simple at-home check you can do.
If you did locate a growth or enlargement, contact your doctor so they can confirm.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer can also include neck pain. This pain typically starts in the front of the neck and can extend to the jaw or even the ear. Voice changes also occur in individuals. The voice tends to sound deeper or hoarse. Thyroid cancer can also cause difficulty swallowing and breathing, as well as a continual cough that isn’t linked to a cold.
What are the Treatments?
When diagnosed with thyroid cancer there are a few different treatment options. These include,
- Radioactive Iodine Therapy
- Thyroid-stimulation hormone (TSH) Suppression Therapy
- External beam radiation
- Thyroidectomy Surgery (partial or full removal can be done)
Treatment options vary depending on the individual and these can be discussed with your doctor.
How Common is Thyroid Cancer?
Unbeknownst to many, thyroid cancer is fairly common. In 2015, it is projected that 62,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This type of cancer is more common among women, more than two-thirds of the cases are women, and can plague people of any age.
Due to the high survival rate associated with thyroid cancer it has mistakenly been deemed the “good cancer”. Hopefully the information listed here along with other resources will show you that that is not the case and we encourage you to take Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month seriously. Help us spread the news and don’t forget to do a self neck check!