The thyroid is a gland at the base of the throat near the trachea (windpipe). It is shaped like a butterfly, with a right lobe and a left lobe. The isthmus, a thin piece of tissue, connects the two lobes. A healthy thyroid is a little larger than a quarter. It usually cannot be felt through the skin.
The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral found in some foods and in iodized salt, to help make several hormones. Thyroid hormones do the following:
- Control heart rate, body temperature, and how quickly food is changed into energy (metabolism).
- Control the amount of calcium in the blood.
Risk factors for thyroid cancer include the following:
- Being between 25 and 65 years old.
- Being female.
- Being exposed to radiation to the head and neck as an infant or child or being exposed to radiation from an atomic bomb. The cancer may occur as soon as 5 years after exposure.
- Having a history of goiter (enlarged thyroid).
- Having a family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
- Having certain genetic conditions
- Being Asian.
Thyroid cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms. It is sometimes found during a routine physical exam. Signs or symptoms may occur as the tumor gets bigger. Other conditions may cause the same signs or symptoms.
Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- A lump (nodule) in the neck.
- Trouble breathing.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Pain when swallowing.
Six types of standard treatment are used:
- Radiation therapy, including radioactive iodine therapy
- Thyroid hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Watchful waiting
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
- The age of the patient at the time of diagnosis.
- The type of thyroid cancer.
- The stage of the cancer.
- Whether the cancer was completely removed by surgery.
- Whether the patient has multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN 2B).
- The patient’s general health.
- Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).