Sunday, October 12, 2008


What is cancer of the thyroid? 

Cancer of the thyroid is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in the tissues of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is at the base of the throat. It has two lobes, one on the right side and one on the left. The thyroid gland makes important hormones that help the body function normally. It is one of the few cancers that has increased in newly diagnosed incidence rates over the past decade worldwide.

Fast Facts
  • There are expected to be 11% more new cases in 2008 than in 2007 in the United States. 
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 37,340 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2008. 
  • Of newly diagnosed thyroid cancer cases, about 28,410 will occur in women and about 8,930 will occur in men. 
  • About 1,590 people (910 women and 680 men) will die of thyroid cancer in 2008.
  • Thyroid Cancer is three times more more common in women than in men regardless of age or race. 
  • Most patients newly diagnosed with thyroid cancer the past decade are between 25 and 50 years old. 
  • Many patients, especially in the early stages of thyroid cancer, do not experience symptoms. 
  • As thyroid cancer develops, symptoms can include a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty peaking, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and pain in the throat or neck.
  • People who have been exposed to large amounts of radiation, or who have had radiation treatment for medical problems in the head and neck such as childhood cancer have a higher chance of getting thyroid cancer later in life. In many cases "secondary" thyroid cancer may not occur until 20 years or longer after the initial radiation treatment. 
You should see a  doctor immediately if there is a lump or swelling in the front of the neck or in any other parts of the neck. Your doctor should  "feel" and examine your neck and thyroid for nodules, tumors or "lumps"during your annual physical examination.

If a nodule or abnormality is found The doctor may order blood tests and special scans to see whether a lump in the thyroid is making too many or too little hormones. If your doctor forgets to check your neck, you can gently remind him that you would like him or her to please check your neck for abnormalities "just in case".

Thyroid Cancer is the most common endocrine cancer worldwide
Depending on your physical test results, neck check and individual risk factors your doctor may want to take a small amount of tissue from the thyroid. This is called a biopsy. To do this, a small needle is inserted into the thyroid at the base of the throat and some tissue is drawn out. The tissue is then looked at under a microscope to see whether it contains cancer.

There are four main types of cancer of the thyroid (based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope): papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic.

The individual chance of  recovery or survival (prognosis) depends on the type of thyroid cancer, whether it is just in the thyroid or has spread to other parts of the body (stage), and the patient's age and overall health. Some types of thyroid cancer grow much faster than others but overall most thyroid cancers have a good cure and survival rate if diagnosed early and treated properly.

Thyroid Cancer Genetics: Could it be inherited?

The genes in our cells carry the hereditary information from our parents. An abnormal gene has been found in patients with some forms of thyroid cancer such as medullary thyroid cancer. If medullary thyroid cancer is found, the patient may have been born with a certain abnormal gene which may have led to thyroid  cancer. Family members may have also inherited this abnormal gene.

Tests have been developed to determine who has the genetic defect long before any cancer appears therefore, it is important that the patient and his or her family members (children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews) see a doctor about tests that will show if the abnormal gene is present.

These tests are confidential and can help the doctor help patients. Family members, including young children, who don't have cancer, but do have this abnormal gene, may reduce the chance of developing medullary thyroid cancer by having surgery to safely remove the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy).

Remember to talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors such as a family history of thyroid cancers.                                

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