In honor of the Thyroid Awareness Month of January, I’d like to touch on thyroid cancer.
About 60 million Americans are suffering from some form of thyroid disorders. Thyroid disorders are difficult to diagnose but once identified, are usually easy to manage and treat.
However, a thyroid disorder that is potentially life-threatening is thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is not as common as breast and lung cancers but it nevertheless presents risks especially to women older than 30 and its aggressiveness increases with age.
According to the American Thyroid Association, “thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine-related cancer… with about 20,000 new patients [diagnosed annually] annually.”
There are several types of thyroid cancers (source: American Thyroid Association), namely.
This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for 70 to 80% of all thyroid cancer cases. This cancer is relatively less aggressive compared to other cancer types, with prognosis as high as 100 % cure rates and long life expectancy. Metastasis is very unlikely, recurrence is common but mortality rates are very low.
This is the second most common cancer of the thyroid accounting for 10 to 15% of all cases. This type is more malignant than papillary carcinoma, with a higher tendency to metastasize. However, prognosis is generally good and cure rates are generally high.
Medullary thyroid cancer
This is a rare form of thyroid cancer and accounts for 5 to 10% of all cases. This type of cancer runs in families and can be diagnosed by genetic testing,
Anaplastic thyroid cancer
This is the rarest but the deadliest of all thyroid cancer types, and accounts for less than 5% of all cases. It is aggressive and doesn’t respond well to treatment. While most thyroid cancers are prevalent among women, this type occurs equally in men and women. This is the type of thyroid cancer that caused the death of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2005.
What causes thyroid cancer?
Two main causes of thyroid cancer have been identified
- Exposure to radiation
In many cases, however, the real cause is not well understood.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Like most thyroid disorders, the overt symptoms of thyroid cancer are difficult to identify because of their resemblance to other disorders. However, the presence of a lump or a nodule in the thyroid should ring some alarm bells.
The initiative of the Thyroid Awareness campaign Mary Shomon of the New York Times recommends the following steps for thyroid self-examination:
- Stand in front of a mirror
- Stretch your neck back
- Swallow water
- Look for enlargement in your neck (below the Adam’s Apple, above the collar bone)
- Feel the area to confirm enlargement or bump
- If any problem is detected, see a doctor.