Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages, Types, Medications & Treatments
Commonly asked questions about thyroid cancer:
- What is thyroid cancer?
- How common is thyroid cancer?
- What are the types of thyroid cancer?
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
- What are the stages of thyroid cancer?
- Thyroid cancer in patients under 45
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer in Stage I?
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer in Stage II
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer in Stage III?
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer in Stage IV
- What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer in Stage IV (anaplastic)
- What are the risk factors associated with thyroid cancer?
- Is thyroid cancer curable?
- What is the survival rate for thyroid cancer?
- What treatments are available for thyroid cancer?
- What drugs are used to treat thyroid cancer?
- How to prevent cancer
- What drugs are used to treat thyroid cancer?
What is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer develops in the tissues of the thyroid gland, also known as the Adam’s Apple. The thyroid gland is responsible for producing several important hormones, such as the thyroid hormone and calcitonin.
The thyroid hormone is involved in controlling body temperature, weight, energy level and heart rate. Calcitonin allows the body to use calcium more efficiently.
How Common is Thyroid Cancer?
According to The American Cancer Society, the chances of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has increased in recent years and has almost tripled the past three decades. However, it appears the main cause for the rise in diagnosis is due to the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can be used to detect small thyroid nodules that may have been missed in the past.
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 62,415 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2016, including 49,350 in women and 19,950 in men.
Approximately 75 percent of thyroid cancer cases are found in women, and only 2 percent of cases for thyroid cancer appear in children and teens.
What are the Types of Thyroid Cancer?
There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary carcinoma, follicular carcinoma, medullary carcinoma and anaplastic carcinoma.
- Papillary carcinoma: Papillary carcinoma is the most common of the four types. It accounts for roughly 80 percent of the cases. This kind of cancer is generally slow growing and can develop on one or both sides of the thyroid gland. This type of cancer can spread to the nearby lymph nodes in the neck, but is generally treatable with a good prognosis.
- Follicular carcinoma: Follicular carcinoma is the second most common type of cancer and accounts for roughly 10 percent of all cases. This type of cancer is found more frequently in countries that do not have a proper dietary consumption of iodine. This type of cancer is slightly more aggressive than papillary and is more likely to spread to other organs, such as the lungs or bones — rather than to nearby lymph nodes.
- Medullary thyroid carcinoma: Medullary thyroid carcinoma is more aggressive than the previously mentioned thyroid cancers. It is less differentiated and is more likely to spread to both nearby lymph nodes and other organs. This type of cancer is also known to release high levels of calcitonin and carcinoembryonic antigen, which is detectable through blood testing.
- Anaplastic carcinoma: Anaplastic carcinoma is considered to be the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer, and can quickly spread to other parts of the neck and body. This type of cancer is accountable for roughly 2 percent of all thyroid cancer cases.
What are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
Neck pain, voice changes, breathing problems, coughing and trouble swallowing are all symptoms linked to thyroid cancer, according to CancerCenter.com.
- Neck pain: Neck pain usually starts in the front of the neck, but in some cases, neck pain can spread all the way to the ears.
- Voice changes: If you experience a raspy or hoarse voice that does not go away, it may be a sign of thyroid cancer.
- Breathing problems: Some thyroid cancer patents say it is as though they are trying to breathe through a straw. This breathing issue is often a symptom of the disease.
- Coughing: If you have a cough that persists and is not related to a cold or other allergies, it may be a sign of the disease.
- Trouble swallowing: You may have a tough time swallowing if a growth or nodule is present on the thyroid gland.
What are the Stages of Thyroid Cancer?
CancerCenter.com lists six different stages of thyroid cancer. Staging guidelines were put into place by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), and is often referred to as the TNM or (Tumor, Node and Metastasis) system.
- TNM System: The TNM system is used as a staging guideline for various kinds of cancer, but is often used to help stage thyroid cancer.
- T: “T” describes the tumors size.
- N: “N” is used to indicate if the thyroid cancer cells have spread into the lymph nodes.
- M: “M” indicates whether the cancer has spread to far areas of the body.
- Thyroid cancer in patients under the age of 45: The prognosis for a patient under the age of 45 with differentiated (papillary or follicular) thyroid cancer is generally good. The staging system takes this information into consideration and classifies these cancers into two groups that depend on whether they have spread into distant organs or not.
- Stage 1: The tumor may be any size and may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes. Distant organs in the body have not been affected.
- Stage 2: The tumor may be any size and may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes. However, distant organs in the body have been affected by the cancer cells.
- Stage I: The tumor is smaller than two centimeters wide (under an inch in diameter), and has not grown outside of the thyroid.
- Stage II: Cancers that are in Stage II must meet one of the following criteria:
- Diameter of the main tumor ranges from 2-4 centimeters, and there are no cancer cells in regional lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.
- The main tumor is larger than 4 centimeters in diameter and has started to grow outside of the thyroid gland. No cancer is found in the lymph nodes or other areas of the body.
- Stage III: Cancers that are in Stage III must meet one of the following criteria:
- The main tumor has grown beyond 4 centimeters in diameter, or has grown outside of the thyroid but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or beyond.
- The main tumor can be any size or be growing outside of the thyroid along with having spread to the lymph nodes in the neck but no farther.
- Stage IV: Stage IV is the most advanced stage of thyroid cancer. It is classified based on whether or not the cancer has spread.
- Stage IVA: Tumors in this stage have grown outside of the thyroid gland and have possibly spread into nearby tissue. They also may have spread into lymph nodes in the upper back and chest, but not beyond that.
- Stage IVB: The main tumor has grown into the spine or nearby blood vessels. The disease may have spread into lymph nodes, but has not gone into distant parts of the body.
- Stage IVC: The cancer cells have spread into distant parts of the body.
- Stage IV Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer: All subsets of this stage are considered Stage IV and are far more aggressive than any other.
- Stage IVA: The main tumor is still within in the thyroid gland. It may or may not have spread to lymph nodes. It has not spread to further areas of the body.
- Stage IVB: The tumor has spread from the thyroid gland and cancer cells may or may not have spread to lymph nodes. It has not spread to further areas of the body.
- Stage IVC: The cancer cells have spread out of the thyroid gland and into further parts of the body.
What are the Risk Factors Associated with Thyroid Cancer?
A risk factor is considered anything that affects a persons chance of getting a disease, even though the cause of thyroid cancer is not fully understood.
The American Cancer Society and CancerCenter.com have each created lists of the risk factors associated with thyroid cancer. These lists include: age, gender, family history, lifestyle/diet and previous treatments.
- Age: Thyroid cancer can happen at any age, however, the chances increase once a person is above the age of 40.
- Gender: For unclear reasons, thyroid cancer occurs three times more often for women than it does for men.
- Family history: Certain inherited genetic abnormalities have been shown to lead to the development of certain types of thyroid cancer. One such abnormality is called (RET). RET has been associated with the development of medullary cancers. RET has been linked to about one in four cases. This condition is known as familial medullary thyroid cancer or (FMTC). It is possible to detect many of the gene mutations that occur with FMTC with a simple blood test. People with FMTC generally develop it in early childhood or adulthood. However, if you have a first-degree relative with thyroid cancer, even if no known inherited syndrome was identified, your risk for thyroid cancer increases.
- Lifestyle/diet: A diet that consists of small amounts of iodine has been linked to thyroid cancer.
- Radiation: Being exposed to any kind of radiation, including that which is used for medical procedures, can increase someone’s risk for cancer, especially any type of radiation received as a child.
Is Thyroid Cancer Curable?
Yes, thyroid cancer is curable.
What is the Survival Rate for Thyroid Cancer?
The following survival statistics were published in 2010 in the seventh edition of the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. They are based on the stage of the cancer when the person is first diagnosed:
What Treatments are Available for Thyroid Cancer?
There are four main ways to treat thyroid cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common form of treatment used for thyroid cancer.
- Radiation therapy: Involves shrinking the tumor using high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. You might also ingest radioactive iodine, the thyroid sucks up the iodine and the radiation kills the cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy: Hormones will be given generally in pill form to prevent the production of hormones that are thought to encourage cancer cells growth.
- Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to kill the cancer cells, chemotherapy may be given by pill or administered by needle into the vein or muscle.
What Drugs are Used to Treat Thyroid Cancer?
- Doxorubicin: Doxorubicin is an antibiotic used in the treatment of a number of cancers, such as breast, ovarian, lung, stomach and thyroid. The drug is given via injection into the vein, each injection usually takes several minuets, but can differ based on what kind of cancer is being treated and what medications the patient is currently taking.
- Anti-angiogenesis drugs: Anti-angiogenesis drugs, such as axitinib, motesanib, sunitinib and sorafenib, cause new blood cell formation to be disrupted, which in turn, stunts tumor growth because tumors receive nutrients by causing new blood cells to form.
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Thyroid Cancer?
The following drugs and medications are in some way related to, or used in the treatment of thyroid cancer, according to the National Institute:
- Doxorubicin Hydrochloride
- Lenvatinib Mesylate
- Sorafenib Tosylate