Endocrine/Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is the most common type of endocrine cancer, diagnosed in about 64,000 people each year. Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment. Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in your thyroid undergo genetic changes (mutations). The mutations allow the cells to grow and multiply rapidly. The cells also lose the ability to die, as normal cells would. The accumulating abnormal thyroid cells form a tumor. The abnormal cells can invade nearby tissue and can spread throughout the body.

  • Female sex. Thyroid cancer occurs more often in women than in men
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation. Examples of exposure to high levels of radiation include radiation treatments to the head and neck and fallout from sources such as nuclear power plant accidents or weapons testing
  • Certain inherited genetic syndromes.Genetic syndromes that increase the risk of thyroid cancer include familial medullary thyroid cancer and multiple endocrine neoplasia.
  • A lump that can be felt through the skin on your neck
  • Changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in your neck and throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Physical exam.Your doctor will look for physical changes in your thyroid and ask about your risk factors, such as excessive exposure to radiation and a family history of thyroid tumors.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests help determine if the thyroid gland is functioning normally.
  • Removing a sample of thyroid tissue: During a fine-needle biopsy, your doctor inserts a long, thin needle through your skin and into the thyroid nodule. Ultrasound imaging is typically used to precisely guide the needle into the nodule. Your doctor uses the needle to remove samples of suspicious thyroid tissue. The sample is analyzed in the laboratory to look for cancer cells.
  • Imaging tests: You may have one or more imaging tests to help your doctor determine whether your cancer has spread beyond the thyroid. Imaging tests may include computerized tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) or ultrasound.
  • Genetic testing: Some people with medullary thyroid cancer may have genetic changes that can be associated with other endocrine cancers. Your family history may prompt your doctor to recommend genetic testing to look for genes that increase your risk of cancer.
  • Papillary thyroid cancer.The most common form of thyroid cancer, papillary thyroid cancer arises from follicular cells, which produce and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but most often it affects people ages 30 to 50.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer.Follicular thyroid cancer also arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It usually affects people older than age 50. Hurthle cell cancer is a rare and potentially more aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer.Medullary thyroid cancer begins in thyroid cells called C cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. Elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate medullary thyroid cancer at a very early stage. Certain genetic syndromes increase the risk of medullary thyroid cancer, although this genetic link is uncommon.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer.Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare and rapidly growing cancer that is very difficult to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer typically occurs in adults age 60 and older.
  • Thyroid lymphoma.Thyroid lymphoma is a rare form of thyroid cancer that begins in the immune system cells in the thyroid and grows very quickly. Thyroid lymphoma typically occurs in older adults.

 

  • Removing all or most of the thyroid (thyroidectomy). In most cases, doctors recommend removing the entire thyroid in order to treat thyroid cancer. Your surgeon makes an incision at the base of your neck to access your thyroid
  • Removing lymph nodes in the neck.When removing your thyroid, the surgeon may also remove enlarged lymph nodes from your neck and test them for cancer cells
  • Removing a portion of the thyroid (thyroid lobectomy).In certain situations, where the thyroid cancer is very small, your surgeon may recommend removing only one side (lobe) of your thyroid