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Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a disease where cancerous cells grow and form a tumor in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and is located in the front of the neck. It makes hormones that regulate the way your body uses energy and that help your body work normally. Most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer have a good prognosis because the disease is often found early and the treatments work well.
Thyroid cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers annually diagnosed. Primarily an adult disease, it is one of the least deadly cancers and is different from other adult cancers in that it occurs much more frequently in younger adults, particularly in women between the ages of 20 and 55 years. Thyroid cancer is the most common form of cancer in adult women under age 35 years, accounting for 20% of all cancers. The cause of thyroid cancer is largely unknown, but likely involves both hereditary and environmental factors. High head and neck exposure to ionizing radiation is a known cause of thyroid cancer, but such exposures account for few cases. The observed high incidence in women of reproductive age strongly suggests an involvement with reproductive hormones, but the mechanism is unknown. Other factors that may increase thyroid cancer risk include family history of thyroid cancer or goiter.
In the United States, thyroid cancer occurs about three times more often in women than in men. It can occur at any age, but is rarely diagnosed in children and teenagers. Women between the ages of 20 and 50 are at the highest risk for thyroid cancer. The disease also occurs in older women, but not as frequently as in women of reproductive age. Unlike in women, thyroid cancer in men is relatively rare before age 50, but its occurrence then increases constantly with age, so that older men are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer than younger men are.
Scientists have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop thyroid cancer:
  • Gender and age
  • Diet low in iodine
  • Radiation
  • Hereditary conditions
You can learn about known and probable carcinogens from Known and Probable Human Carcinogens at www.cancer.org (external site).
Most people with thyroid cancer have no known risk factors, therefore, it is not possible to prevent most cases of this disease. Some doctors have suggested that the increase in thyroid cancers may be due to X-ray testing of young children. This has not been proven, but it is a good idea for children to avoid X-rays that are not necessary.
Because genetic blood tests are now available, most of the familial cases of certain thyroid cancer types (e.g., medullary thyroid carcinoma or MTC) can be treated early or prevented. Once the disease is discovered in a family, the rest of the family can be tested.
If you have a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma, or MTC, it is important that you see a doctor who is familiar with the latest advances in genetic counseling and genetic testing for this disease. Removing the thyroid gland in children who carry the abnormal gene will prevent a cancer that might otherwise be fatal.
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Content updated: Thu, 10 Nov 2016 08:37:23 MST