Thyroid Cancer

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is an uncommon form of cancer which develops in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and is responsible for producing and releasing hormones that help to control many processes within the body. Thyroid cancer is not common and only around 1,900 cases are diagnosed in the UK every year. Thyroid cancer is more prevalent among women than men. There are different types of thyroid cancer. The four main types are papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer, with papillary cancer being the most common form.

What are the causes of thyroid cancer?

The precise source of thyroid cancer is unidentified, though a proportion of dangers have been identified. These include:

  • Age: the danger of having thyroid cancer increases with age for men; but is the same for women between the ages of 30 and 55
  • Family history of thyroid cancer
  • Exposure to chemicals or radiation
  • Low iodine levels
  • Poor diet
  • Benign thyroid condition
  • Inherited faulty gene

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

Symptoms of thyroid cancer include:

  • Hoarseness
  • A lump in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A sore throat

These symptoms are commonly associated with mild illnesses, but if symptoms persist you should visit your GP as this may indicate a more serious condition, such as thyroid cancer.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

If you have persistent symptoms you should visit your GP for an examination and chat. If your GP thinks you may have thyroid cancer they will refer you to a specialist for additional investigation. At the hospital tests including blood tests, ultrasound scans and a fine needle aspiration test may be carried out along with tests such as CT and MRI scans. The test results will be used to confirm a diagnosis.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

The main treatments for thyroid cancer are surgery, hormone therapy, radiotherapy and radioactive iodine. These treatments can be used alone or as a combination and chemotherapy may also be used if cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage. The treatment pathway will be based on the individual's general health, how well they respond to treatment and the stage of cancer.

What is the outlook for people with thyroid cancer?

The outlook for thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer. The prognosis for papillary thyroid cancer is very good, the prognosis for follicular thyroid cancer is almost as good, the outlook for medullary thyroid cancer is generally fairly positive, but the prognosis for anaplastic thyroid cancer tends to be poor. The outlook also depends on the stage of cancer and the individual's general health.

Living with thyroid cancer

Living with thyroid cancer can be very difficult, especially if the prognosis is poor. However, there is help out there and if you need information, advice about practical and emotional issues or support, you can contact one of the UK's cancer charities.

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