Thyroid cancer

Specialty of Surgery

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer which affects the thyroid gland, which releases thyroid hormones that help control the body’s metabolism. Thyroid cancer is relatively rare, and in most cases it is treatable. Thyroid cancer most commonly affects those above the age of 60, and those in their 30s. Thyroid cancer is also more commonly found in women than in men.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer symptoms include:

  • Swollen glands
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go away over time
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarseness which occurs for no reason, and again does not go away over time
  • A lump in the front of the neck (painless)
  • Difficulty breathing

Neck lumps are usually not cancerous, and they are often caused by less serious conditions such as an enlarged thyroid gland. However, if you have a lump in your neck, it’s important to have it checked, to be sure.

What causes thyroid cancer?

The cause of thyroid cancer is largely unknown, but there are certain factors which increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer. Those with a family history of thyroid cancer are at a higher risk, but it is important to remember that thyroid cancer is still rare, even if a family member has it.

Exposure to radiation can be a risk factor for thyroid cancer, with it being more common in those who have undergone radiotherapy treatment, particularly during childhood. The risk of thyroid cancer is not generally higher in those who are regularly exposed to radiation through work, though in those who have survived atomic accidents or explosions, the risk is higher and thyroid cancer is more common.

Thyroid cancer is also more common in those who are overweight, have diabetes, and those have had cancer before.

How can it be prevented?

Most cases of thyroid cancer are not preventable. However, as radiation is a known risk factor, medically it is not used in the treatment of less serious diseases. X-rays and imaging scans also increase exposure to radiation, so these types of test are only administered when absolutely necessary.

What is the treatment for thyroid cancer?

Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on how far along the cancer is (i.e if it has spread) and what type of cancer it is. Treatment is generally successful and there are various types administered, including external radiotherapy, chemotherapy targeting cancer cells, an iodine treatment which kills the cancer cells in the body, and surgery. Surgery removes all, or part, of the thyroid.

After treatment is administered, and the cancer is removed, it is important to have further check-ups to make sure the cancer does not return. However, prognosis for thyroid cancer is good, and if it does return, it can be treated again successfully. 

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