Who Might Have Thyroid Cancer
Women are three times more likely than men to get thyroid cancer. The disease is commonly diagnosed in women in their 40s and 50s, and men in their 60s and 70s. Even children can develop the disease. Risk factors include:
- Exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons or a power plant accident.
Know The Risk Factors For Hypothyroidism And Thyroid Cancer
They may not be considered preventable, but hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer share a few risk factors that could increase your likelihood of developing either condition and make you more vigilant about watching for them.
Most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer are 40 or older. Although those diagnosed with hypothyroidism are typically older than 60, both conditions are more common among women than men.
Exposure to radiation is another risk factor for both hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. “Thyroid cancer is associated with a history of ionizing radiation exposure such as radiation used to treat acne or enlarged adenoids in the 1950s or mantle radiation used to treat lymphoma,” notes Dr. Sullivan.
Research has shown that radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons or power plant accidents have increased children’s risk for thyroid cancer. Anyone who has received radiation to the thyroid, neck, or chest is also at greater risk for hypothyroidism.
If you have a family history of thyroid disease, you’re also at greater risk for hypothyroidism. In addition, certain inherited conditions or a family history of the disease have been linked to thyroid cancer.
A thyroid condition known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is associated with an increased risk for thyroid cancer. This autoimmune disease is also the most common cause of hypothyroidism. With Hashimoto’s, the immune system makes antibodies that damage the thyroid and interfere with its ability to release thyroid hormone.
What Is The Thyroid
The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck. It looks sort of like a butterfly with one wing on each side of the neck. The thyroid is important in many ways for keeping your body healthy. It sends out certain chemicals that help control many activities in the body, such as breathing and pumping blood. The thyroid helps childrens bodies develop as they grow up, including getting taller and putting on muscle. It helps control weight and is also involved in other functions.
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Prognosis And Survival Rates For Thyroid Cancer
When someone is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, their doctor will give them a prognosis. A prognosis is the doctors opinion of how likely the cancer will spread and the chances of getting better. A prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, test results and a persons age, fitness and medical history.
The most common types of thyroid cancer have an excellent long-term prognosis, especially if the cancer is found only in the thyroid or nearby lymph nodes in the neck. Even if the cancer has spread, the outcome can still be good.
Doctors commonly use 5-year survival rates as a way to discuss prognosis. This is because research studies often follow people for 5 years it does not mean you will survive for only 5 years. Thyroid cancer has a very high 5-year survival rate .
If you have thyroid cancer, your doctor will talk to you about your individual situation when working out your prognosis. Every persons experience is different, and there is support available to you.
Thyroid Hormone Replacement Therapy
Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is often prescribed after thyroid surgery to replace the hormones that are no longer being produced by your thyroid tissue. Depending on how much of your thyroid was taken out, you may have to take the medication most commonly levothyroxine for the rest of your life.
Thyroid hormone replacement can also help prevent the growth or recurrence of thyroid cancer. It does this by lowering your circulating level of the hormone TSH, which is secreted by your brains pituitary gland and tells your thyroid to make more thyroid hormone. High TSH levels can stimulate the growth of thyroid cancer cells. Higher doses of replacement thyroid hormone tell your body to make less TSH, slowing the growth of any thyroid cancer cells and lowering the odds of your cancer coming back.
It can take a few adjustments to find the correct dosage of thyroid hormone replacement. During this time, you may need to see the doctor every 6 to 8 weeks for a blood draw to determine if your levels are optimal.
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Thyroid Cancer: Common In Women
Thyroid disorders are more common in women, probably due to the roles of hormones, which are different in femalesthan in males.
Thyroid nodules, Russell says, affect up to 80 percent of women, but only 5percent to 15 percent of those lumps and bumps are malignant. Bettertesting means thyroid tumors are on the rise, he notes, saying that itsprojected to become the third most common cancer.
Malignant and cancer are scary words, but Russell says that mostthyroid cancer is highly treatable, even when the cancer cells spread tonearby lymph nodes, which occurs frequently.
With thyroid cancer we talk about prognosis in terms of 20-year survivalinstead of five years, as we do with most other cancers. Its usually aslow-moving disease. Theres a 98 to 99 percent survival rate at 20 years,he says.
We treat it almost like a chronic condition where the patient getstreatment and visits her doctor regularly for follow-up.
What Are The Symptoms Of Thyroid Cancer
- A lump or swelling on the side of the neck is the most common symptom.
- Having trouble breathing.
- Having trouble swallowing.
- Having a hoarse voice.
These symptoms can also come from other conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. Dont wait until the symptoms get worse.
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Having Had Cancer Before
Some studies suggest that people treated as adults for certain cancers have an increased risk of thyroid cancer. These include:
- non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- cancer of the food pipe
- testicular cancer
It is not known if this is due to treatment for these cancers, common risk factors or inherited genetic changes. In the case of oesophageal cancer, it may be because routine checks after treatment pick up the thyroid cancers.
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What Kind Of Treatment Will I Need
There are many ways to treat thyroid cancer but surgery is the main treatment. The treatment plan thats best for you will depend on:
- The stage of the cancer
- The chance that a type of treatment will cure the cancer or help in some way
- Other health problems you have
- Your feelings about the treatment and the side effects that come with it
Depending on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, you may need more than 1 type of treatment.
What Are The Symptoms
Thyroid cancer can cause several symptoms:
- You may get a lump or swelling in your neck. This is the most common symptom.
- You may have pain in your neck and sometimes in your ears.
- You may have trouble swallowing.
- You may have trouble breathing or have constant wheezing.
- Your voice may be hoarse.
- You may have a frequent cough that is not related to a cold.
Some people may not have any symptoms. Their doctors may find a lump or nodule in the neck during a routine physical examination.
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What Causes Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is more common in people who have a history of exposure to high doses of radiation, have a family history of thyroid cancer, and are older than 40 years of age. However, for most people, we dont know why thyroid cancer develops.
High dose radiation exposure, especially during childhood, increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer. Radiation therapy used to treat cancers such as Hodgkins disease or breast cancer has been associated with an increased risk for developing thyroid cancer if the treatment included exposure to the head, neck or chest. Routine X-ray exposure such as dental X-rays, chest X-rays and mammograms are not associated with a high risk of thyroid cancer. As always, you should minimize radiation exposure by only having tests which are medically necessary.
Exposure to radioactivity released during nuclear disasters has also been associated with an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer, particularly in exposed children, and thyroid cancers can be seen in exposed individuals as many as 40 years after exposure.
What Is The Prognosis Of Thyroid Cancer
Overall, your prognosis with differentiated thyroid cancer is excellent, especially if you are younger than 55 years of age and have a small cancer. If your papillary thyroid cancer has not spread beyond the thyroid gland, patients like you rarely if ever die from thyroid cancer. If you are older than 55 years of age, or have a larger or more aggressive tumor, your prognosis remains very good, but the risk of cancer recurrence is higher. The prognosis may not be quite as good if your cancer is more advanced and cannot be completely removed with surgery or destroyed with radioactive iodine treatment. Nonetheless, even if this is your situation, you will likely be able to live a long time and feel well, despite the fact that you are living with cancer. It is important to talk to your doctor about your individual profile of cancer and expected prognosis. It will be necessary to have lifelong monitoring, even after successful treatment.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Thyroid Cancer In Children
Most children who are diagnosed with thyroid cancer feel well at the time of diagnosis, and many have no symptoms at all. While symptoms may vary from child to child, the most common include:
- a lump in the neck
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- a sensation of a lump in the throat when swallowing
- unexplained hoarseness
Keep in mind that similar symptoms can be associated with more common medical problems and conditions. Therefore, it is important to consult your child’s physician for a diagnosis if your child has one of these symptoms.
Thyroid Cancer Causes And Risk Factors
Its not clear exactly what causes thyroid cancer to develop. However, there are a number of known potential risk factors, some of which can be modified and others that cant. According to the National Cancer Institute, risk factors for developing thyroid cancer include:
Other research led by Dr. Harari is looking at whether certain environmental exposures, including to pesticides and flame retardants, have a link to thyroid cancer.
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Handling The Stress Of Having Cancer
Having cancer can be very stressful, and it may feel overwhelming to face the challenges in front of you. Finding new ways of coping with the symptoms of stress may improve your overall quality of life. These ideas may help:
- Get the support you need. Spend time with people who care about you, and let them help you.
- Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, and eat nourishing foods.
- Talk about your feelings. Find a support group where you can share your experience.
- Stay positive. Do things each day that will help you stay calm and relaxed.
Having cancer can change your life in many ways. For support in managing these changes, see the topic Getting Support When You Have Cancer.
Are There Complementary Therapies I Can Try
While there are no great studies showing that complementary and alternative medicine can cure or treat thyroid cancer, you might find some of them helpful for relieving stress, such as aromatherapy or massage therapy.
Ask your doctor before taking any herbal supplements, and if you are already taking some, be sure to let your provider know what and how much, as some herbs can impact thyroid function or interfere with medications.
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External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill cancer cells or damage them so they cannot grow, multiply or spread.
Most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer do not need EBRT, but it may be recommended in particular circumstances. In a small number of cases, it may be given:
- after surgery and RAI treatment if the cancer has not been completely removed or if there is a high risk of the cancer returning
- as palliative treatment to relieve symptoms such as pain caused by cancer that has spread to nearby tissue or structures
- to help control medullary or anaplastic thyroid cancer .
Radiation therapy is usually given 5 days a week over several weeks. You may be fitted for a plastic mask to wear during treatment, which will help you stay still so that the radiation is targeted at the same area of your neck during each session.
Cancer May Spread From Where It Began To Other Parts Of The Body
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began and travel through the lymph system or blood.
- Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor in another part of the body.
- Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor in another part of the body.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if thyroid cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually thyroid cancer cells. The disease is metastatic thyroid cancer, not lung cancer.
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Reducing Your Risk And Other Possible Causes
You might have heard of other possible causes of cancer. Stories about potential causes are often in the media and it isnt always clear which ideas are supported by evidence.
We havent included them here, either because there is no evidence about them or it is less clear.
A pooled analysis of thyroid cancer incidence following radiotherapy for childhood cancer LHS Veiga and others
Cancer. Principles and practice of oncology VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA RosenbergLippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2018
The fraction of cancer attributable to known risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the UK overall in 2015KF Brown and othersBritish Journal of Cancer, 2018. 118, Pages 1130-1141
Family History of Cancer and Risk of Sporadic Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma
L Xu and others
Papillary thyroid cancer: Clinical features and prognosis
R Tuttle and others
Where Does Thyroid Cancer Spread First
Most patients with thyroid cancer have the cancer contained in the thyroid at the time of diagnosis. About 30% will have metastatic cancer, with most having spread of the cancer to the lymph nodes in the neck and only 1-4% having spread of the cancer outside of the neck to other organs such as the lungs and bone.
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Can You Live Without Your Thyroid
The short answer is yes. People can live full, long lives without a thyroid if they take medication to replace the absence of thyroid hormones in their body with thyroid medication.
People can live for a very long time without thyroid hormones, but they will develop symptoms that decrease their quality of life. A lack of thyroid hormones can also increase your risk for other health conditions that can shorten your life expectancy, including heart disease and obesity.
The most severe consequence of not having thyroid hormone in your body is myxedema coma or death. Myxedema is a term that generally denotes severe hypothyroidism. A myxedema coma is a rare, life-threatening resulting from long-standing hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism due to any cause can cause myxedema coma if left untreated.
However, long before this happens, you’ll start to experience other side effects which indicate that your thyroid isn’t functioning correctly. Many people live for several years without even knowing they have an underactive thyroid. Eventually, symptoms do develop, which prompts them to see their doctor.
But What If Its Thyroid Cancer
A cancer diagnosis is always worrisome, but even if a nodule turns out to be thyroid cancer, you still have plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable kinds of cancer. Surgery to remove the gland typically addresses the problem, and recurrences or spread of the cancer cells are both uncommon. People who undergo thyroid gland surgery may need to take thyroid hormone afterward to keep their body chemistry in balance.
Whether its benign or not, a bothersome thyroid nodule can often be successfully managed. Choosing an experienced specialist can mean more options to help personalize your treatment and achieve better results.
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