According to thedenverchannel.com, thyroid cancer is rare in the United States, with 50,000 cases each year. In most cases, a patient has time to be treated, as the thyroid cancer may be slow growing. However, some individuals may develop a fatal type of thyroid cancer that grows so quickly that treatment is futile. Symptoms and causes of thyroid cancer vary by person, and any suspicion of a thyroid problem must be addressed by a specialist immediately.
An enlarged thyroid, also known as a goiter, is the most common cause of thyroid cancer. A thyroid typically enlarges slightly in patients with hypothyroidism. If left untreated, a goiter can eventually become cancerous. Uneven areas of enlargement, known as nodules, are also prevalent in hypothyroid patients and can develop into cancer when left untreated. Radiation exposure puts a person at a high risk of developing thyroid cancer, especially if she received radiation at the neck. In some cases, thyroid cancer can be hereditary, and those whose parents had it are at the highest risk.
There are four types of thyroid cancer: anaplastic carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, papillary carcinoma and follicular carcinoma. Anaplastic carcinoma is usually fatal, even after radioiodine treatments. The trachea is often damaged, which makes it difficult to breathe as a result. Medullary carcinoma is not as common, and actually entails cancerous cells that are not thyroid cells. Papillary carcinoma is the least dangerous of the four types of thyroid cancer, and is the most common. Follicular carcinoma usually comes back despite treatment, and, according to Medline Plus, accounts for 30 percent of all cases of thyroid cancer.
There are many symptoms of thyroid cancer, and they may vary with each type of cancer. However, if any are experienced, then it is vital to see a specialist to determine whether a malignant growth exists. Such symptoms include an enlargement of the thyroid and subsequent neck swelling, excessive coughing, a hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing.
Papillary carcinoma grows the slowest of all types of thyroid cancer. Due to this fact, it can be caught early enough to be treated, so is usually not fatal. Some people can live for many years without even knowing that they have this type of cancer. Medullary and follicular carcinoma grow at a medium pace. Anaplastic carcinoma grows and spreads rapidly. In fact, some individuals who have this type of thyroid cancer can die within months after diagnosis.
Surgery is the most common type of treatment for thyroid cancer, regardless of how fast it is growing. In this case, the thyroid gland is completely removed to prevent the cancer from spreading any further, and the patient is given thyroid hormone replacement drugs for the rest of his life. Radiation therapy is another form of treatment in which a patient is administered radioactive iodine or an external beam is used to kill the cancer cells. Usually the patient will still need hormone replacement drugs, as radiation therapy destroys thyroid hormones along with the cancer cells.