Thyroid cancer originates in the thyroid gland, which is found in the neck (just underneath the Adam’s apple). The thyroid consists of two adjoining lobes that resemble the shape of a butterfly. The thyroid plays many important roles in the body. It is responsible for regulating metabolism, blood pressure and weight. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it also helps manage the way in which the body processes calcium. In most cases, thyroid cancer is discovered prior to age 55. While this type of cancer may not trigger any noticeable symptoms, it still has an encouraging survival rate. When symptoms do occur, the National Institutes of Health says that coughing, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the neck are the most common complaints.
Causes for Thyroid Cancer
In terms of what causes thyroid cancer, the ACS reports that a variety of factors may increase the risk of developing it. For unclear reasons, women are approximately three times more likely to get thyroid cancer. Having a family history of the disease also increases individual risk. In addition, radiation exposure from medical treatments is thought to be another risk factor.
When it comes to treatment, surgery is almost always the course of treatment. The removal of a cancerous thyroid lobe is called a lobectomy. (A thyroidectomy is the removal of the entire thyroid.) Following a thyroidectomy, the person will take a daily hormone pill to compensate for the loss. Radioactive iodine therapy (RAI) is another common treatment for thyroid cancer, especially if it has spread to other areas of the body. With this kind of therapy, the thyroid absorbs radioactive iodine. This, in turn, kills cancerous cells. Side effects of RAI include neck swelling and tenderness, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and taste changes. However, it has been shown to improve survival rate. Other treatment options include hormone therapy, external beam radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.
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