15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know from 15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

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15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

One of the most important parts of our bodies is also one of the smallest ones. The thyroid, butterfly-shaped gland on the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple, releases hormones that have a huge impact on metabolism, among other processes. About 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, according to American Thyroid Association estimates. Most people will develop nodules as they age. But few of them are actually cancerous.

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There are 4 main types of thyroid cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer grows very slowly and is only found in one lobe of the thyroid; Follicular cancer is usually found in countries where people don’t get enough iodine in their diet, according to the American Cancer Society; medullary thyroid cancer, which is more likely to run in families and be associated with other endocrine problems; anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most rare (less than 2 percent) but also the most aggressive kind with the worst prognosis.

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The most common is the most curable

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type, making up about 70 to 80 percent of all thyroid cancers, according to American Thyroid Association. Papillary and follicular cancers have a more than 97 percent cure rate if treated appropriately. They are often successfully treated even if they have spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.

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Risk factors

Doctors are not sure why thyroid cancer develops, Dr. Jennifer Poehls from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health says. However, family history, especially if a first-degree relative has had it, and exposure to radiation in the past from nuclear accidents or treatment to other cancers, increase the risk, she adds. Radiation therapy was often used to treat acne vulgaris until the 1970’s. Dr. Poehls says she had patients who have exposed to such treatment.

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Dental X-rays don’t put you at risk

If they are taken every six months or once a year, you are not at a higher risk for developing thyroid cancer, Dr. Poehls says. Repeated dental X-rays without neck shielding can be a problem because the effects of radiation are cumulative.

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Most patients are women but prognosis is worse in men

Nearly 3 out of 4 cases are found in women, the American Cancer Society says. Its most recent estimates for thyroid cancer in the U.S. for 2016 are 62,450 new cases with 49,350 of them in women and 19,950 in men. However, the cancer in men is found at later stages and has a worse prognosis. Estimates show that about 1,980 deaths from thyroid cancer will occur this year – 1,070 women and 910 men.

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Age

Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but people are at greater risk after turning 30. About 2 percent of thyroid cancers occur in kids and teens, according to the American Cancer Society. In general, thyroid nodules in children and adolescents are more likely to be malignant than those that occur in adults.

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Thyroid nodules

Having thyroid nodules means that thyroid cells have grown abnormally and have formed a lump within the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules are very common in people over 50 years old, Dr. Poehls says. Half of them have lumps. The percentage increases with age.

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Most nodules are benign

As much as 90 percent of these nodules are benign, Dr. Poehls says. A nodule that is cold on scan is more likely to be malignant. However, the majority of these are benign as non-cankerous, according to EndocrineWeb. They may grow in size, but they don’t spread beyond the thyroid.

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Nodules rarely affect thyroid function

Most thyroid nodules, including those that are cancerous, don’t affect the thyroid’s function. Tests like TSH show normal results. This is due to the cancer’s slow rate of growth, Dr. Poehls says.  Nodule can cause compressive symptoms, but they generally won’t affect the gland, she adds.  

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Sometimes there are no symptoms

Thyroid cancer does not always cause symptoms, especially if the nodule is less than 2 cm, Dr. Poehls says. When they appear, common symptoms include hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing or breathing, neck pain, enlarged lymph nodes, and a cough that is not due to a cold.

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It’s rare compared to other cancers

Thyroid cancer is rare compared to other cancers, according to the American Thyroid Association. An estimated 45,000 patients are diagnosed in the U.S. compared to over 200,000 patients with breast cancer and 140,000 patients with colon cancer. The rate has tripled in the U.S. in the last 30 years but, Dr. Poehls says, this appears to be due to increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules.

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Treatment

The most often course of treatment is surgery. It is very effective, Dr. Poehls says. In most cases, doctors recommend removing the entire thyroid, according to the Mayo Clinic. If the cancer is very small, then removing a portion of it is enough. After surgery, patients will be on thyroid hormone therapy for the rest of their lives to suppress the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone. High TSH levels can stimulate the growth of any remaining cancer cells, Dr. Poehls adds.

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Radioactive iodine is very effective

Thyroid cells are the only cells that have the ability to absorb iodine. Radioactive iodine is given after surgery. It is used to treat any microscopic cancerous cells left behind, Dr. Poehls says. The other cells in the body won’t absorb the poisonous iodine and remain unaffected. Possible side effects are nausea, dry eyes, dry mouth and altered sense of taste.

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Recurrence rates

The overall risk of recurrence is quite low, Dr. Poehls says, especially among patients with no family history or radiation exposure. While the prognosis for most people with thyroid cancer is very good, the rate can be up to 30 percent, and recurrences can occur even decades after the initial treatment, according to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association.

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South Asian women living in the U.S.

Incidence rates are higher among Southeast Asian women living in the U.S. than among other women in the country, according to a study. Dr. Poehls says this may be due to a “detection bias” – more frequent screenings may find new nodules due to new technology. Separate research found that Asian-Americans had the highest rate of papillary thyroid tumors – 164 cases of per 100,000 female patients. Among men, Caucasians had the highest rate of PTC.

15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know