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Thyroid cancer isn’t that common in the United States, but rates seem to be increasing, likely due to new technology allowing for detection of small thyroid cancers that might not have been as detectable in the past. The good news? Most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment.
Thyroid cancer is the abnormal and uncontrollable growth of cells in the thyroid gland, a gland located in front of the esophagus responsible for the production of several crucial hormones. The thyroid is composed of two main types of cells:
There are many different types of thyroid cancer. The classification of thyroid cancer depends on the cells it arises from. Most often, thyroid cancers develop from follicular cells.
Types of thyroid that arise from follicular cells include:
Other types of thyroid cancers include:
As with most cancers, the cause of thyroid cancer is unknown. It is known to be associated with several genetic diseases, and the irregular cell division that leads to cancerous growths is known to be caused by damage to cell DNA. There are several risk factors known to affect the chances of developing thyroid cancer.
The following factors may affect your risk of developing thyroid cancer:
The road to a thyroid cancer diagnosis most often begins with a prompted or regular physical exam. Doctors will check the size and firmness of the thyroid gland as well as examine the rest of the body for signs of other conditions and/or symptoms.
If your doctor suspects you may have thyroid cancer, he or she will most likely conduct a biopsy of the tissue in which suspected thyroid cells are collected and sent to a lab to be tested for cancerous properties.
In addition to a biopsy, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
Imaging tests, to better visualize the thyroid and any potential growths. These include:
Blood tests, to check for levels of thyroid-related hormone and other proteins in the blood.
Though thyroid cancer does not have a definite set of symptoms, the following may be warning signs of thyroid cancer:
Generally, thyroid cancer is easily treatable if caught at an early stage. The prognosis for thyroid cancer also depends on the type of cancer.
The following are specific five year survival rates for the three most common types of thyroid cancers:
Follicular thyroid cancer:
Papillary thyroid cancer:
Medullary thyroid cancer:
The following tips can help you live well with thyroid cancer:
Because thyroid cancer is much easier to treat at an early stage, a physical examination of the thyroid gland is recommended once a year along with a regular physical. For those with a higher risk of thyroid cancer, a physical examination of the thyroid gland is recommended two or more times per year.
If your doctor suspects you may thyroid cancer, he or she will most likely conduct a series of diagnostic tests.
There are no known modes of prevention for thyroid cancer. If possible, avoid excessive exposure to radiation. High levels of radiation have been linked to increased rates of thyroid cancer.
The following treatments are available for thyroid cancer patients:
Surgery. Complete or partial removals of the thyroid are the most common modes of treatment for thyroid cancer. Common types of surgery include:
Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy involves the use of high-power x-rays or radioactive substances. Radiation treatments vary greatly from case to case depending on the extent of the cancer and can be effective in non-operable cases.
Chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, high strength drugs target and kill or interrupt the growth process of cancerous cells.
Thyroid hormone-therapy. In thyroid hormone therapy, the production of certain thyroid hormones is inhibited, causing the cancerous cells producing the hormones to die.
Targeted therapy. In targeted therapy, a specific protein is used to block biological processes leading to tumor growth.
Though there is a limited amount of supporting evidence for alternative treatments for thyroid cancer, members of the alternative medicine community assert that there are several modes of alternative and complimentary treatments for thyroid cancer. These include:
Mind/body practices such as guided imagery, meditation, yoga, and reiki.
Dietary supplements, including:
Acupuncture. Acupuncture may help lessen overall stress levels as well as regulate bodily energy.
Massage and Acupressure. Many patients report an overall increase in well-being due to massage and acupressure therapies.
One of the most important things you can do for your body while fighting thyroid cancer is staying in overall good health. Tips for living well include:
If you suspect you may have thyroid cancer, contact a doctor if you experience any of the following:
If you are undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, contact a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
You may want to include the following types of doctors in your care team:
You may want to ask your doctor several questions about your treatment and condition. It may be helpful to write down questions that you have beforehand and bring them with you to make sure you do not forget to ask any.
The following are questions you may want to ask your doctor about your thyroid cancer:
For more information on thyroid cancer, visit the following websites:
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