The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is responsible for secreting thyroid hormones that regulate growth and metabolism in the body. Metabolism refers to the process of energy usage in the body. Issues with the thyroid gland will affect a person's energy levels because their metabolism will be disturbed. Thyroid cancer is where the cells in the thyroid gland divide abnormally and eventually form a tumour. This tumour is visible as a bump in the neck. Thyroid cancer is considered to be one of the most curable cancers when detected early.
Types of thyroid cancer
There are four types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary Thyroid Cancer. This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, found in 80% of cases. This cancer grows slowly and then spreads into the lymph nodes of the neck. Those diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer have a good chance of making a full recovery.
- Follicular Thyroid Cancer. Around 10–15% of all thyroid cancers are of this type. This type also spreads into the lymph nodes and then into the blood vessels.
- Medullary Cancer. Around 4% of cases are medullary cancer. In this cancer, a hormone known as calcitonin is produced and is quickly picked up by routine blood tests, so this cancer can be diagnosed early.
- Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. This is the rarest form of thyroid cancer. It is quite aggressive and difficult to treat because it rapidly spreads to other parts of the body.
Typical symptoms of thyroid cancer
The most obvious symptom is a lump in the neck, but other symptoms include neck and throat pain, a lingering cough, changes to the voice and difficulty whilst swallowing. The symptoms are not that apparent in the early stages of thyroid cancer; this is why it is normally picked up in routine blood tests which measure levels of thyroid hormones.
Causes of thyroid cancer
Unfortunately, there are no obvious causes of thyroid cancer, but family history, obesity and exposure to radiation are amongst risk factors. Radiation is one of the major causes; those who have undergone radiation therapy to the neck are at risk of developing thyroid cancer. Additionally, thyroid cancer occurs in women more than men.
There is a range of highly successful treatments available for thyroid cancer. These include chemotherapy, drugs and complete removal of the thyroid gland. The rate of recovery depends upon the age of the patient and the stage and type of the cancer.