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Thyroid Cancer: Some Basics

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It is estimated that there will be 56,460 new cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed in the United States and of those, 1, 780 will die in 2012. It is devastating and frightening to be diagnosed with cancer, but thankfully, thyroid cancer is a cancer with a high survival rate.

There are four types of thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common variety and is slow growing so most people recover.

Follicular thyroid cancer is another slow-growing cancer beginning in the follicular cells. It accounts for 15 percent of cases and also has a high recovery rate.

Medullary thyroid cancer starts in the C cells of the thyroid and is easier to treat if caught before it spreads to other areas of the body.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the rarest variety, accounting for 2 percent of cases. It starts in the follicular cells of the thyroid and spreads very quickly, and so is difficult to treat.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

• Swelling of the glands in the neck
• A lump in the neck
• Sore, painful throat
• Painful neck
• Difficulty swallowing food
• Difficulty breathing

These symptoms may be indicative of something else other than cancer, for instance, hyperthyroidism, but it is important to get checked by a doctor.


The doctor will perform a physical examination of your neck and look for any lumps and swelling of the glands. He may also take blood to check for levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and other studies.

Not enough of this hormone, or too much, can mean your thyroid isn’t working correctly. He may also check other hormones to rule out or confirm other thyroid diseases.

A thyroid scan may be ordered. By swallowing a radioactive iodine substance, your cells will be more visible on a scan. The cells that take up most of the radioactive substance are thought to be normal cells.

Ones that don’t take up the iodine are known as ‘cold’ nodules and may be cancerous. This is confirmed by a biopsy.

A biopsy is done by inserting a fine needle into the lump and extracting a sample. This will then be analysed under a microscope to see if it is cancerous.

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Follow-up for thyroid cancer patients is very important. Even if a "clean" bill of health is given, annual testing is a good practice. Thyroid cancer can recur many years after treatment.

January 30, 2012 - 5:37pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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