Thyroid Cancer: What You Need To Know

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The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck. It makes hormones responsible for metabolism and brain function, as well as a number of other bodily functions. Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine system cancer and occurs when cancerous tumors or nodules grow in the thyroid gland. It is the fastest growing cancer in the United States in both men and women, with over 62,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Because of the increased number of thyroid cancer cases in the United States, knowing the signs and symptoms is important as you seek to protect your health.

What are Common Thyroid Cancer Causes?

Thyroid cancer occurs when thyroid nodules become cancerous. Many people have nodules on the thyroid, and over 90 percent of those nodules are not cancerous. However, when they are cancerous, they need to be treated to protect thyroid function and prevent the cancer from spreading.

What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?

Unfortunately, many cases of thyroid cancer do not have any symptoms. The most common thyroid cancer symptom people notice is a lump or swelling in the neck. Difficulty swallowing, neck or throat pain, or a chronically hoarse voice are also symptoms of the disease. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, or chronic neck and throat pain can point to thyroid cancer as well. If your doctor finds a lump or nodule in your thyroid gland, it will be monitored for signs of growth. Your doctor may also order a biopsy to rule out cancer.

What Puts a Person at Risk for Developing Thyroid Cancer?

While anyone can develop thyroid cancer, certain factors put an individual at higher risk. These factors include:

  • Having exposure to radiation from a nuclear reactor accident
  • Having a family history of thyroid cancer or thyroid disease
  • Being Caucasian
  • Being female
  • Being between 25 and 65 years old

Thyroid cancer risk is approximately three times higher in women than men, and most cases occur in patients under age 55.

What Are the Treatments for Thyroid Cancer?

If you suspect that you have thyroid cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about the right testing. If your doctor confirms the presence of cancerous nodules in the thyroid, you will likely need to have your thyroid gland removed. If the thyroid cancer is contained within the gland, this may be the only treatment needed. However, some doctors will offer a one-time radioactive iodine pill as part of their thyroid cancer treatment protocol. Advanced cancers, which are found in fewer than 5 percent of patients, may require chemotherapy. Because the thyroid gland is removed during treatment, you will need to be on thyroid hormone therapy for the rest of your life.