Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer. Luckily, it is also considered a highly treatable cancer. Most people who have prompt treatment recovery quickly and completely.

What is thyroid cancer?

The thyroid is a gland that sits at the base of the neck. It sends out hormones that regulate the metabolism. While thyroid cancer is not common in the US, new diagnostic tools are helping to find small thyroid cancers that may not have been detected easily in the past.

Types of thyroid cancer

The most common type of thyroid cancer is what is known as papillary cancer. This is the most common type, accounting for around 80% of all thyroid cancers. This type shows up as a solid, cystic or irregular mass on otherwise normal thyroid tissue. It is considered highly curable, with 10-year survival rates between 80 and 90%.

Follicular thyroid cancer is the second most common type, accounting for about 15% of thyroid cancer. This type of cancer can spread into the surrounding blood vessels. It has a high cure rate, with 95% of people treated for it seeing a full cure.

Medullary thyroid cancer is less common, accounting for about 3% of thyroid cancers. This type of cancer arises from the parafollicular cells (also known as C cells) of the thyroid. Ten year survival rates are as high as 90%.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the least common type, making up the remaining 2% of cancers. This type of thyroid cancer can arise within a goiter. Of all the types of thyroid cancer, it is the most aggressive.

Causes of thyroid cancer

The cause of thyroid cancer remains unknown. However, there are number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing thyroid cancer. A family history of goiter increases your chances of developing thyroid cancer in your lifetime. Exposure to high levels of radiation can make it more likely that you will develop thyroid cancer, often years after exposure. There may be a relationship between poorly controlled diabetes and thyroid cancer. People who have iodine deficiencies are at a higher risk; however, many foods in the US are enriched with iodine, which makes this rare.

Thyroid cancer is more common in women than in men. People who are over 40 have a higher risk than those who are younger.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

Often, thyroid cancer has no symptoms. It is often first detected when someone who has it has an ultrasound of the neck for an unrelated reason.

Thyroid nodules are a common symptom of thyroid cancer; however, as much as 75% of the population will have thyroid nodules at some point. The majority of these are not thyroid cancer.

When symptoms do arise, they can include neck pain, enlarged lymph nodes, a hoarse voice and a feeling like there is a lump in your throat. Anaplastic cancer often presents as a fast-growing lump. It may go from undetectable to prominent in a matter of days or weeks. Because of this, it is important to get any suspicious lumps checked as quickly as possible.

Thyroid cancer treatment

The primary treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery to remove the thyroid. This can sometimes provide a cure-all on its own. However, many people will also need treatment with radioactive iodine after thyroid removal to get rid of other involved tissue. Since the thyroid is able to take in iodine while other organs are not, this provides effective treatment without the drawbacks of chemotherapy.

Thyroid cancer is considered a highly treatable cancer when it is caught early. By detecting thyroid cancer early and treating aggressively, a full recovery is possible.