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About Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than in men.

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

Here are several types of thyroid cancer:

Papillary: In the United States, papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type. About 86 of every 100 people with thyroid cancer have this type. It begins in follicular cells and usually grows slowly. If diagnosed early, most people with papillary thyroid cancer can be cured.

Follicular: The second most common type is follicular thyroid cancer. A little more than 9 of every 100 people with thyroid cancer have this type. It begins in follicular cells and usually grows slowly. If diagnosed early, most people with follicular thyroid cancer can be treated successfully.

Medullary: Medullary thyroid cancer is not common. About 2 of every 100 people with thyroid cancer have this type. It begins in C cells and can make abnormally high levels of calcitonin. Medullary thyroid cancer tends to grow slowly. It can be easier to control if it’s found and treated before it spreads to other parts of the body. Medullary thyroid cancer sometimes runs in families.

A change in a gene called RET can be passed from parent to child. Nearly everyone with a changed RET gene develops medullary thyroid cancer. The disease occurs alone, as familial medullary thyroid cancer, or with other cancers, as multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndrome.

A blood test can usually detect a changed RET gene. If it’s found in a person with medullary thyroid cancer, the doctor may suggest that family members also be tested. For those who have a changed gene, the doctor may recommend frequent lab tests or surgery to remove the thyroid before cancer develops.

Anaplastic: The least common type is anaplastic thyroid cancer. About 1 of every 100 people with thyroid cancer has this type. Most people with anaplastic thyroid cancer are older than 60. The cancer begins in follicular cells of the thyroid. The cancer cells tend to grow and spread very quickly. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is very hard to control.

The cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, but certain risk factors have been identified and include a family history of goiter, exposure to high levels of radiation, and certain hereditary syndromes.

The National Cancer Institute recommends that anyone who received radiation to the head or neck in childhood be examined by a doctor every one to two years to detect potential thyroid cancer.

Common Signs: The most common signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer include a lump, or thyroid nodule, that can be felt in the neck, trouble swallowing, throat or neck pain, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, cough, and vocal changes.

The only certain way to tell whether a thyroid lump is cancerous is by examining the thyroid tissue obtained using a needle or surgery for biopsy. A CEA blood test, physical exam, X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs may also be used to help establish a definitive diagnosis and determine staging.

Surgery is the most common form of treatment for thyroid cancer that has not spread to other areas of the body.

The survival rate and prognosis of thyroid cancer depends upon a few factors, including the individual’s age, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has metastasized.

It is not possible to prevent most cases of thyroid cancer.