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Alternative Names Return to topTumor - thyroid; Cancer - thyroid
Definition Return to top
Thyroid cancer is a cancerous growth of the thyroid gland.
Causes Return to top
Thyroid cancer can occur in all age groups.
People who have had radiation therapy to the neck are at higher risk. Radiation therapy was commonly used in the 1950s to treat enlarged thymus glands, adenoids and tonsils, and skin disorders. People who received radiation therapy as children are at increased risk for getting thyroid cancer.
Other risk factors are a family history of thyroid cancer and chronic goiter.
There are several types of thyroid cancer:
Symptoms Return to top
Note: Symptoms may vary depending on the type of thyroid cancer
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical examination can reveal a thyroid mass or nodule (usually in the lower part of the front of the neck), or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
Tests for thyroid cancer:
This disease may also affect the results of the following tests:
Treatment Return to top
Treatment varies depending on the type of tumor.
Surgery is usually the treatment of choice, and the entire thyroid gland is usually removed. If the physician suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed during surgery.
Radiation therapy delivered by taking radioactive iodine is often used, with or without surgery. Radiation therapy with an external beam of radiation can also be used.
After treatment, you need to take thyroid hormone to replace what your glands used to make. The dose is usually a little higher than what your body needs, which helps keep the cancer from coming back.
If the cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be used, but this is only effective for a third of patients.
Support Groups Return to top
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group made up of people who share common experiences and problems. See cancer - support group.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Anaplastic carcinoma has the worst outcome of all the types of thyroid cancer. It is usually fatal despite treatment.
Follicular carcinomas are often fast growing and may invade other tissues, but the outlook is still good -- most patients are cured.
The outcome with medullary carcinoma varies. Women under age 40 have a better chance of a good outcome.
Papillary carcinomas are usually slower growing. Most people are cured and have a normal life expectancy.
Many patients who have surgery or radiation for thyroid cancer must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you notice a lump in your neck.
Also call if your symptoms get worse during treatment.
Prevention Return to top
There is no known prevention. Awareness of risk (such as previous radiation therapy to the neck) can allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.
References Return to top
Ladenson P, Kim M. Thyroid. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa : Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 244.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology 2008: Thyroid Carcinoma. Version 1.2008.Update Date: 2/12/2009 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.