The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits in the neck on top of the wind pipe (trachea). It makes thyroid hormone, which is responsible for the body’s metabolism. There are more than 600,000 cases of people living with thyroid cancer in the United States. The incidence rate of thyroid cancer has been rising rapidly since the mid-1990s. It is now the fastest-increasing cancer in both men and women. There are different types of thyroid cancer. The most common type is well-differentiated, which includes papillary and follicular thyroid cancers. Medullary thyroid cancer accounts for one to two percent of cases and can be more challenging to treat.
Risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to radiation, such as radiation fallout from atomic weapons testing or a nuclear power plant accident, or radiation exposure as part of medical treatment during childhood. A family history of thyroid cancer, particularly inheriting a gene that causes medullary thyroid cancer, may also put a person at increased risk. More thyroid cancers are diagnosed in females and in those under the age of 65.
DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT
Your doctor will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical examination, and order diagnostic tests to diagnose thyroid cancer. Blood tests are done to examine levels of thyroid hormones. Medical imaging tests are conducted to visualize a nodule (ultrasound, radioactive thyroid scan, CT scans or PET scanning). A biopsy is performed (either with a fine needle or with surgery) to remove a sample of tissue for analysis to see if it contains cancer cells.
Thyroid cancer is often treatable. The overall five-year survival rate is 98 percent. Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the cell type, tumor size, and whether the cancer has spread elsewhere. Most patients have total surgical removal of the entire thyroid gland (thyroidectomy), hormone suppression therapy and radioactive iodine ablation. External beam radiation and chemotherapy are also used in some cases of metastatic disease or recurrent disease.
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