The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that is below the Adam’s apple in the front part of the neck. It produces, stores, and releases hormones that regulate vital body functions.
Thyroid cancer happens when cells in the thyroid grow out of control. There are two main types of cells in the thyroid: follicular cells and C cells. Follicular cells use iodine from the blood that makes hormones which help regulate metabolism. C cells make calcitonin, a hormone that helps control how the body uses calcium. Less common cells in the thyroid are lymphocytes (immune system cells) and stromal cells.
Different cancers develop from each kind of cell, with each having a different level of disease and treatment. The three main types of malignant thyroid cancer are differentiated (including papillary, follicular, and Hṻrthle cell), medullary, and anaplastic (rare). In 2016, the ACS estimates 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer and 1,980 deaths. Although the death rate has remained steady for thyroid cancer for many years, the chances of being diagnosed has tripled in the last 3 decades. This could be due to the use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small nodules.
Most thyroid cancers are found when a patient or a doctor feels a small or large lump in the neck. People with a family history of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), with or without type 3 multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN 2), might have a high risk for this type of cancer and may wish to undergo genetic testing.
Genetic testing is more advanced than ever before allowing for opportunities to make decisions based on one’s genetic make-up. Finding a genetic counselor to help you with questions and concerns is an optimal way to get the information you need in order to make the right decision for your particular needs. For any questions or to get started with genetic testing, you can get information here.
More on Thyroid Cancer
Key questions and considerations for patients By Julie Ann Sosa, MD, MA, FACS Professor of Surgery and Medicine, Duke University
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