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Thyroid Cancer Care and Understanding

March 23, 2023 Posted in: Cancer Care

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 40,000 new cases of thyroid cancer this year. Of those cases, more than 2,000 will be fatal. Between 1% and 2% of people are estimated to get thyroid cancer at some point during their lifetime, and it affects women times more often than it does men. Although it can occur within any age group, thyroid cancer is most common after age 30.

What is thyroid cancer?

Everyone has a butterfly-shaped gland beneath their Adam’s apple. This gland has two lobes joined by a narrow piece, and the entire gland is referred to as the thyroid. Thyroids help the body by releasing and controlling thyroid hormones. These hormones are in control of the metabolism, which helps your body produce energy and regulate its systems.

Cancer of the thyroid involves mutations in the thyroid which allow the cells to rapidly grow and multiply. These cells do not die as cells typically would, and instead accumulate into a tumor. They can spread, or metastasize, to nearby healthy tissue and other parts of the body.

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is not yet known, but signs include swelling and pain in the neck, changes to the voice (hoarseness), and difficulty swallowing.

How to treat thyroid cancer

Depending on the case, thyroid cancer may not need immediate treatment. Small cancers that are at low risk of spreading usually require frequent monitoring, blood tests and ultrasounds.

If the cancer becomes more likely to spread, other options are available to reduce the cancer or eliminate it from the thyroid. Depending on the case, doctors may recommend:

  1. Surgery.  This is the most common treatment. A surgeon may be able to remove a section or all of the thyroid, thereby removing the areas the cancer has spread.
  2. Radioiodine therapy. This form of therapy involves swallowing pills or liquids containing high doses of radioactive iodine. The radioiodine fights against the diseased thyroid gland and cancer cells invading it.
  3. Radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists use a radiation machine to kill cancer cells and stop any additional growth directly at the cancer site.
  4. Chemotherapy. A medical oncologist uses intravenous or oral chemotherapy drugs to target and kill cancer cells. This treatment is rare for individuals with thyroid cancer.
  5. Hormone therapy. A therapy that blocks hormones from being released. The lack of hormones stops the cancer from spreading or returning.

Thyroid cancer support

Receiving a thyroid cancer diagnosis is scary, and it might be difficult to know what your next steps are.

There are cancer survivor groups, such as the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, and others that can provide important information and support while you navigate your diagnosis. Connecting with the American Cancer Society and American Thyroid Association may help you feel less alone, more informed, and more aware of what your options are.  

CHI Memorial’s Center for Cancer Support also offers information and resources about every aspect of your diagnosis and treatment. For any cancer related questions or concerns, call CHI Memorial’s Cancer Connect at (423) 495-2222.

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