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Medical & Legal Information on Thyroid Cancer: Causes & Treatment Options
• Thyroid Cancer Overview
• Types of Thyroid Cancer
• Causes of Thyroid Cancer
• Diagnosing Thyroid Cancer
• Treating Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid Cancer Overview
Thyroid Cancer initially develops in the cells of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck just below the Adam’s apple. This gland produces hormones regulating body weight, body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. While this disease is not common in America, the incident rates are increasing, possibly because of the new advancements in detecting and identifying the disease. If the disease is caught in the early stage, it can be cured with effective treatments.
Statistics maintained and released by the American Cancer Society reveal that approximately 57,000 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2017. This includes more than 42,000 cases in women and more than 14,000 cases in men. The five-year survival rate for thyroid cancer is 98.1 percent in individuals who seek treatment.
Thyroid Cancer Symptoms
Early detection of thyroid cancer is usually the result of experiencing many of the common symptoms of the disease that include:
- Swelling or a lump found in the neck
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Hoarseness not associated with the cold or other illness
- Constant wheezing
- Difficulty in breathing
- Neck pain
- Ear pain
- Non-cold related coughing
Experiencing one or more the symptoms is not necessarily an indicator of the disease. However, early detection by a doctor can verify the presence of cancer, especially if a nodule or lump is found in the neck as part of a routine physical examination.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Scientists classify different forms of thyroid cancer based on the types of cancer cells involved. These classifications include:
- Papillary Thyroid Cancer that accounts for 8 out of every 10 cases.
- Follicular Thyroid Cancer that accounts for 1 out of every 10 cases.
- Hurthle Cell Carcinoma (oncolytic carcinoma), a rare variant of papillary cancer.
- Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer, a rare form of the disease with very abnormal-looking cells.
- Medullary Thyroid Cancer, a form of the disease arising from C cells.
- Sarcoma, a rare form of the disease.
- Lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that includes non-Hodgkin’s B-cell type.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
Doctors, scientists, and researchers have yet to determine what causes thyroid cancer. However, it is likely the result of mutations the DNA that occur from some external force or genetic predisposition. Many individuals acquire the disease later in life. Doctors believe that there are significant correlations between risk factors in the development of thyroid cancer that includes:
- Early Age Exposure to Radiation – Statistics reveal the children who were exposed to radiation to the neck have a greater potential risk of developing the disease. Today there is no correlation between CT scans and x-rays of the neck using low radiation doses and the development of thyroid cancer. Even so, it is important to consider limiting radiation exposure when possible.
- Gender – Studies show that females are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer compared to men, especially women between 40 and 50 years of age.
- Low-Iodine Diets– There is a correlation between low iodine diets in the risks of developing thyroid cancer. Low iodine diets are not necessarily a problem in America, because there are typically sufficient iodine amounts added to consumed food products. Some research indicates that low levels of iodine in an otherwise healthy diet may increase the potential development of radiation-induced thyroid cancer.
- Genetic Predisposition – Individuals may be genetically predisposed to acquiring thyroid cancer, especially specific rare forms of the disease.
Diagnosing Thyroid Cancer
Once the doctor or patient discovers a lump or swelling on the thyroid, specific tests will be performed to determine whether it is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Usually, the doctor will recommend performing an ultrasound to determine the presence of multiple nodules or a single nodule and identify if it is a solid or fluid-filled mass. The ultrasound test will also identify any irregularities or inflammation of the thyroid and detect the presence of enlarged lymph nodes that might be indicative of metastatic (spreading) cancer.
As a part of the diagnosis, the doctor will perform a fine needle aspiration biopsy to gather a sample of thyroid cells that can be evaluated under a microscope to determine if the cells are malignant. Typically, the results of these tests will show one of five conditions of the thyroid tissue that include:
- Benign – The risk of the tumor being cancerous is less than one percent.
- Atypical – An atypical result usually indicates an unknown significance of the cell classifying the risk of cancer at 5 percent to 10 percent.
- Follicular Cancer – At this stage, the risk of the thyroid cancer being malignant is 20 percent to 30 percent.
- Suspicious – At this stage, The diagnostician suspects malignancy at a rate of 50 percent to 75 percent.
- Malignant – At this most advanced stage, cancer has likely spread to other areas of the body and is determined to be cancerous at 100 percent.
However, the results of an aspiration test are often indeterminate or unclear, requiring repeated tests to ensure a better sample to study.
The doctor may also recommend a radioactive iodine thyroid gland test to determine the level of radioactive iodine absorbed by thyroid nodules and the thyroid gland. A large amount absorbed in the thyroid gland is usually indicative of benign activity.
Blood tests are also effective at determining the levels of hormones produced by the thyroid gland along with levels of electrolytes including calcium. Occasionally, the doctor will recommend a PET scan, MRI or CT Scan to evaluate the structures of the neck to determine if cancer has metastasized or spread to other areas.
Treating Thyroid Cancer
Doctors typically have numerous options for treating thyroid cancer. These include:
- Surgical Procedures – In many cases, the doctor needs to remove the tumor through a surgical procedure. The type of procedure will depend on the size, location, and grade of the tumor. The available surgical procedure options include a lobectomy, thyroidectomy, lymph node resection or open biopsy.
- Thyroid Hormone Treatments – If the removal of the thyroid has been completed, the body no longer has the capacity to make the normal essential hormones produced by a healthy gland. Because of that, the patient will likely need to follow daily thyroid hormone replacement therapy. This involves regular thyroid hormone blood testing to verify there are sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone to allow the body to properly function. This therapy is often lifelong in patients who have had a total thyroidectomy.
- Radioactive Iodine – This procedure is used after thyroidectomy surgery to ensure that any remnant thyroid cancerous tissue is destroyed.
- Radiation – Radiation therapy is often used as a solution when radioactive iodine testing is not available or safe. This type of treatment is usually performed prior to surgery.
- Chemotherapy – Aggressive drugs used to kill thyroid cancer cells might be an available option when other treatments do not produce successful results.
Little can be done to prevent the development of thyroid cancer. Even so, patients who have undergone a thyroidectomy and other procedures can live a normal life with treatment, especially females who are 40 years and younger.
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