Thyroid Cancer

This article starts below.

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland situated in the neck just below the Adam's apple. This gland produces thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) that are essential for physical and mental growth and development. They also play several other important functions in the body.

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a malignant tumor or growth located within the thyroid gland. It is the most common cancer of the endocrine system but is less common than some types of cancer, as it represents only 2% of all cancers. Thyroid cancer occurs in both men and women but is three times more common among women. It usually occurs in extremes of age: below 20 or above 60 years old.

Are there different types of thyroid cancer?

There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic.

Papillary and follicular cancers are the most common types and have a five-year survival rate of over 95% if properly treated.

Medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancers are less common and are usually more difficult to treat.

Who are at risk to develop thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is more likely to occur in people who have a family history of thyroid cancer, or in anyone who may have been exposed to high levels of environmental radiation.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

Thyroid cancer is often discovered by people who feel a lump, or a nodule on the front of their neck. At times, patients will complain of hoarseness or dysphagia. If you or your doctor discover a nodule, the doctor will likely recommend testing, which includes:

  • Blood test to measure the level of thyroid hormones;
  • Thyroid ultrasound to determine the number of nodules as well as the presence of enlarged lymph nodes;
  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy which is the recommended test to know whether a nodule is benign or cancerous. With this test, a small needle is inserted through the skin to obtain a small tissue sample which is then examined under a microscope. The test is fast, safe, and usually causes little discomfort.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

Fortunately, in many cases, cancerous nodules grow slowly. Thyroid cancer is often treated using a two-step approach.

  1. Thyroidectomy, or the surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
  2. Thyroid remnant ablation, or the destruction of remaining thyroid tissue or cells. After thyroid remnant ablation therapy, the doctor will prescribe thyroid hormone called levothyroxine to replace the hormone that your thyroid gland would have made naturally.

What should I expect during follow-up visits?

Blood tests like thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroglobulin (Tg) levels to aid in the adjustment of the thyroid hormone replacement dose and to evaluate recurrence.

Imaging studies like whole body scan and neck ultrasound to check for recurrence or spread of thyroid cancer.

Excerpt from The Thyroid Gland: Thyroid Cancer by the Philippine Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism.