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Thyroid cancer

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a cancer that affects the thyroid glands. Thyroid glands are located in the front area of the neck and cannot be seen or felt in most people.

The thyroid has two main types of cells: follicular cells and c-cells. Different cancers develop from the different types of cells. In addition to the cancerous cells that can occur in this area, many non-cancerous or benign tumors or growths may occur in the thyroid gland.

What are the risk factors for thyroid cancer?

For thyroid cancer, there are some risk factors that cannot be altered and there are some that can be. The risk factors that cannot be changed include:

  • Gender and age
  • Hereditary conditions
  • Family history

The risk factors that can be altered include:

  • A diet low in iodine
  • Limited radiation

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer can cause many symptoms including:

  • Lumps in the neck
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Pain in the front of the neck
  • Hoarseness or voice changes that do not go away
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Constant cough not due to a cold

Many of these symptoms can occur under non-cancerous circumstances, but it is important to talk to your doctor if any of these symptoms do occur.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

Thyroid cancer can sometimes be found after a routine check-up, but if a person suspects they may have thyroid cancer there are a few tests that can be done to confirm a diagnosis. These tests include a medical history and physical exam followed by imaging tests, blood tests, laryngoscopy and biopsy.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

The good news is that many thyroid cancers can be cured. Depending on the type of thyroid cancer a person has, they may need one or more treatments. Multiple types of doctors including a surgeon, endocrinologist, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist usually serve on a medical treatment team.

Multiple treatment options are possible including:

  • Surgery
  • Radioactive iodine treatment
  • Thyroid hormone therapy
  • External beam radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

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