Thyroid Cancer

    Explanation

    Thyroid cancer develops when cells of the thyroid gland multiply in a disorderly  manner.  Over time they can form a mass which may be malignant (cancerous).

    Thyroid cancer is relatively rare but rates seem to be increasing.  This may be due to technology that can detect small cancers that may previously have been undetected.

    Who is at risk

    From the 1920s to the mid-1950s, thousands of children received x-ray treatments to the head and neck areas. Back then, x-ray therapy was used to treat swollen tonsils and adenoids, ringworm of the scalp, acne and other non-cancerous conditions; no one foresaw its long-term complications.  Here are some other risk factors:

    • Age - most cases occur in people between the ages of 20 and 60 years.
    • Gender - women are three times more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer.
    • Personal or family history of goiter - a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid.
    • Inherited genetic syndromes - including multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN), familial adenomatous polypopsis (FAP), and familial meduallary thyroid carcinoma (MTC).
    • Diet - particularly those low in iodine.

    Signs and Symptoms

    Thyroid cancer tumours may grow silently for years. Typical signs include an enlarged thyroid gland or lumps in the neck, there are no early signs or symptoms for this type of cancer. Left undetected and untreated, however, the later stages of thyroid cancer might cause hoarseness or difficulty in breathing/swallowing.

    Prevention

    Any factor that lowers your risk of developing a disease is known as a protective factor.  Different cancers have different protective factors.  it is not possible to prevent most cases of this disease, however, the following are factors for consideration:

    • Children generally should avoid unnecessary x-rays.
    • Removal of the thyroid gland - for individuals with familial meduallary thyroid carcinoma, an inherited genetic syndrome.
    • Diet - increasing iodine intake where appropriate.

    Diagnosis

    There is no standard or routine screening test for thyroid cancer.  If you have any combination of the above signs and symptoms, contact your doctor.

    Treatment Options

    Surgery is most often used therapy, some people also use radiation therapy. When the thyroid gland is partially or completely removed, the procedure is called a thyroidectomy. When the entire thyroid is removed, thyroid hormone pills are taken for a lifetime. Thyroid pills control the body's metabolic rate just as the thyroid?s naturally-produced thyroxine.