The thyroid gland helps regulate several bodily functions, including metabolism, energy production as well as hormone balance. When abnormal cell growth occurs within the thyroid gland, it can lead to the development of thyroid cancer. While a diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, this cancer has a good prognosis rate, especially when detected and treated early.
In this blog post, we will share insights into different types of thyroid cancer, including their characteristics, prevalence, and common thyroid cancer treatment options. Read on to learn more.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
- Papillary thyroid cancer
It is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for about 80% of cases. It typically affects women more frequently than men and has a higher occurrence in younger individuals. Papillary thyroid cancer arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid gland and often appears as a slow-growing tumor.
- Follicular thyroid cancer
This type of thyroid cancer arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid gland, similar to papillary thyroid cancer. It is less common than papillary thyroid cancer but still accounts for a large number of total thyroid cancer cases.
- Medullary thyroid cancer
It originates from the parafollicular cells, also known as C-cells, of the thyroid gland. It comprises about 3-4% of all thyroid cancers. Medullary thyroid cancer can occur sporadically or as part of an inherited condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2A or 2B.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer
Being the rarest and most aggressive form of thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer accounts for only about 1-2% of cases. Anaplastic thyroid cancer typically arises from undifferentiated thyroid cells and grows rapidly. Therefore, it often has a poor prognosis rate.
Diagnostic Procedures for Thyroid Cancer
- Physical examination and medical history
The initial step in diagnosing thyroid cancer involves a thorough physical examination by a healthcare professional and analysis of medical history. Doctors usually check the neck to identify any abnormalities in the thyroid gland, such as nodules or enlarged lymph nodes.
- Imaging tests
Physicians recommend imaging tests to evaluate the size, location, and characteristics of thyroid nodules or tumors. Ultrasound is often the first-line imaging modality for assessing thyroid nodules, providing information about their size, composition, and blood flow patterns. CT scans and MRIs may be used in specific cases to further evaluate the extent of the cancer, particularly if there is concern for local invasion or metastasis in other areas.
- Biopsy and pathology analysis
A biopsy is a definitive diagnostic procedure for thyroid cancer that involves the removal of a small tissue sample from the thyroid nodule or tumor for analysis. The most common type of biopsy used for thyroid cancer is fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy, which uses a thin needle to extract cells from the nodule. The collected sample is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist to determine if cancer cells are present and to identify the specific type of thyroid cancer.
Diagnostic procedures may vary depending on the individual case and the healthcare provider’s recommendations. If there are concerns about thyroid cancer, individuals should consult a qualified healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate diagnostic testing.
Thyroid Cancer Treatment Options
- Thyroidectomy: Surgery is a primary treatment option for thyroid cancer. Thyroidectomy is one of the most common surgical treatment options for thyroid cancer that involves the surgical removal of the thyroid gland. The extent of the surgery may vary depending on the type and stage of thyroid cancer. In some cases, a total thyroidectomy is performed, removing the entire thyroid gland. In other cases, a partial thyroidectomy or lobectomy may be sufficient if the cancer is confined to one lobe of the thyroid.
- Lymph node dissection: In certain cases where thyroid cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, a lymph node dissection may be performed. This procedure involves the removal of affected lymph nodes to prevent further spread of the cancer. The extent of lymph node dissection may vary depending on the extent of lymph node involvement.
- Radiation therapy
- External beam radiation therapy: External beam radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to target and kill cancer cells. It may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells or in cases where surgery is not feasible. This treatment option is more commonly used for anaplastic thyroid cancer or in advanced cases.
- Radioactive iodine therapy: Radioactive iodine therapy, also known as iodine-131 therapy, is commonly used for differentiated thyroid cancers such as papillary and follicular thyroid cancer. It involves the ingestion or injection of a radioactive form of iodine, which selectively targets and destroys thyroid tissue, including cancer cells. This therapy is often used after surgery to eliminate any remaining thyroid tissue or cancer cells.
For the treatment of thyroid cancer, oncologists recommend systemic chemotherapy. It involves the use of medications that circulate throughout the body to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is typically reserved for anaplastic thyroid cancer or cases where the cancer has spread to distant organs.
- Targeted therapy
In recent years, targeted therapies have emerged as promising treatment options for advanced or refractory thyroid cancers, including medullary thyroid cancer.
- Additional treatment approaches
After thyroidectomy, hormone replacement therapy with synthetic thyroid hormone (levothyroxine) is necessary to replace the normal thyroid hormone function and maintain thyroid hormone levels in the body. This therapy is typically lifelong for patients who have had their entire thyroid gland removed.
In some cases, oncologists may also encourage individuals to enroll in clinical trials where they receive new treatment approaches, medications, or combinations of therapies to improve outcomes for thyroid cancer patients.
Individuals should contact a cancer treatment center and evaluate their treatment options in detail to make an informed decision about their treatment. Contact ACTC, one of the best cancer treatment centers in Florida that offers personalized cancer care plans.
Follow-up Care for Thyroid Cancer
After the completion of treatment for thyroid cancer, regular monitoring is essential to detect any signs of recurrence or long-term effects. This may involve imaging tests, such as ultrasound, CT scans, or radioactive iodine scans, to evaluate the neck and other areas for any signs of cancer recurrence. Additionally, monitoring may include blood tests to check thyroid hormone levels and specific tumor markers, such as thyroglobulin in differentiated thyroid cancer.
The Bottom Line
According to the American Cancer Society, thyroid cancer is mostly diagnosed at a younger age. Every individual’s experience with thyroid cancer is unique, and it is important to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. Thyroid cancer may present challenges, but with early detection, appropriate treatment, and ongoing care, it is possible to overcome this disease and live a fulfilling life beyond cancer.