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.
What is cancer?
Our body consists of cells. Normal cells grow, multiply and die in an orderly manner and are replaced by new cells. Cancer cells do not die but continue to multiply in a disorderly manner. Over time they can form a mass which may be malignant, in other words cancerous.
What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer develops when this process occurs in the cells of the thyroid gland.
Where is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The function of the thyroid is to produce hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.
Types of thyroid cancer
There are several types of thyroid cancer including Papillary thyroid cancer, Medullary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer.
What increases my risk?
A RISK FACTOR increases the likelihood that you will develop a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors for thyroid cancer include:
- 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 polyposis (FAP) and familial meduallary thyroid carcinoma (MTC).
- Diet – Particularly those low in iodine.
- Radiation Exposure – e.g. as a result of radiation treatment for another type of cancer.
What decreases my risk?
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 the MTC)
- Diet – increasing iodine intake where appropriate
What are the signs and symptoms?
There are often no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Typical signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are:
- A lump that can be felt through the skin on your neck.
- Changes to your voice including increasing hoarseness.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Pain in your neck and throat.
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck.
Screening tests are done on persons who have no signs or symptoms of a disease.
There is no standard or routine screening test for thyroid cancer.