Cancer awareness has increased during the last few years, and this rise in public awareness and cancer research has resulted in the declining frequency of most cancers. But thyroid cancer awareness is one type of cancer that is going against this trend. Thyroid cancer has seen an increase of about 4 % every year for the last ten years. While part of this is due to the rise in imaging technologies enabling to find cancers that were earlier not diagnosed, this rise in cases is also due to factors such as lifestyle habits and exposure to increased radiations. In the US itself, around 52,000 people got diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year. This is a number that is on the rise around the world, and as a means to reduce this trend, September is recognized as Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month by cancer organizations around the world.
What is Thyroid Cancer?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland, found inside the lower front of the neck. It’s a gland that releases several hormones that regulate the heart rate, body temperature, and weight. Thyroid cancer develops when cells or tissues in the thyroid mutate and begin multiplying abnormally to form a tumour. It is the most common type of endocrine cancer.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is mainly divided into four types based on the kinds of cells found in the tumour. These are:
- Papillary thyroid cancer: This type accounts for about 85% of total thyroid cancers. It arises from the follicular cells and grows very slowly.
- Follicular thyroid cancer: Accounts for around 10% of total thyroid cancer cases diagnosed. It is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and is a more aggressive type of cancer.
- Medullary thyroid cancer: Accounts for about 4% of all thyroid cancer cases. Easier to diagnose and treat since the cancer produces a hormone called calcitonin, which can be easily checked through Blood Tests.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: Rare type of thyroid cancer that accounts to around 1% of all thyroid cancer cases diagnosed. It grows rapidly and is very hard to diagnose and treat. It is typically diagnosed in adults above the age of 60.
Thyroid cancer is comparatively hard to diagnose at the earlier stages as it shows very few symptoms in the beginning stages. But as the cancer grows, it shows symptoms such as:
- A lump in the neck
- Changes to the voice, increase of hoarseness
- Pain in the neck and throat
- Cough without any fever
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Thyroid Cancer Causes
Research is still being done to find out the exact cause of thyroid cancer. But there are several factors that increase the risk of getting thyroid cancer:
Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors:
- Exposure to radiation
- Deficiency of Iodine
- Inherited genetic mutations
- Risk increases with age
Thyroid Cancer Treatment
Thyroid cancer has a high chance of successful treatment, even if the cancer is in an advanced stage. The prognosis depends on the type of cancer, area it has spread to and the stage. In some cases, treatment may not be needed right away, since the growth would be too slow to cause any damage, and in such cases, the doctor would only advise regular screening. The methods of treatment include:
Surgery: Surgery is a common treatment method used in thyroid cancer patients, which can effectively cure the patient. But Surgery includes the removal of the thyroid and sometimes nearby glands which may cause some side effects. The Surgery can also affect the vocal cords and may make your voice hoarse after the Surgery.
Radiation Therapy:High energy beams, similar to X rays, are focused to precise points in the body to remove the tumours.
Chemotherapy:Chemotherapy uses drugs to kills the cancer cells. The drugs are typically administered through the veins or taken orally. Chemotherapy is not usually used in the treatment of thyroid cancers.
Thyroid Hormone Therapy: Usually, after surgery, patients are advised to take thyroid hormone medication such as Levoxyl or Synthroid for life. This medication aids to supply the hormones that are usually made by the thyroid, and helps to avoid recurrence of the cancer.
Radioactive Iodine: This method is used after surgery, to eliminate any minute cancer cells that may remain after the removal of the thyroid through Surgery. It uses large doses of radioactive iodine, but the thyroid cells and thyroid cancer cells usually take up the radioactive iodine, thus reducing the risk of harming other healthy cells.
Need for Thyroid Cancer Awareness: Treatment procedures for thyroid cancer have seen definitive growth in recent years, making thyroid cancer one of the easily treatable types of cancer. Promising immunotherapy-based treatments are on the rise, which may further make the disease easily curable. But to realize this dream become a reality, increased funding into the research is imperative. And to realize this funding, awareness about the disease has to increase manifold.
If caught early, thyroid cancer is one of the most easily treatable forms of cancer. But the rate of recurrence is almost 30%, which stresses the need for more effective treatment procedures. Women are three times more likely to get diagnosed with thyroid cancer than men, but men are more likely to die from it. Thyroid cancer is a disease with several such peculiarities, and thus further research is imperative to learn more about the disease and to fight it better.