Thyroid cancer affects the tissues of the thyroid gland, which is located in the front of the throat, below the thyroid cartilage (otherwise known as the Adam’s apple).
The thyroid gland is responsible for producing several important hormones, such as the thyroid hormone, which is involved in controlling body temperature, weight, energy level and heart rate. The thyroid gland also produces calcitonin, which helps the body use calcium.
According to the American Cancer Society, over 56,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with thyroid cancer every year. Compared with other common types of cancer, approximately 80 percent of cases occur in people who are under 65. Also, women are about three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men.
The Types Of Thyroid Cancer
There are several different types of thyroid cancer:
• Papillary carcinoma is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for approximately 80 percent of cases. Papillary carcinomas are slow growing, differentiated cancers that develop from follicular cells and can develop in one or both lobes of the thyroid gland. This type of cancer may spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, but it is generally treatable.
• Follicular carcinoma is the second most common type of thyroid cancer, and accounts for approximately one out of 10 cases. It is found more frequently in countries with an inadequate dietary intake of iodine.
• Hürthle cell carcinoma, also known as oxyphil cell carcinoma, is a subtype of follicular carcinoma, and accounts for approximately 3 percent of all thyroid cancers.
• Medullary thyroid carcinoma develops from C cells in the thyroid gland, and is more aggressive and less differentiated than papillary or follicular cancers. It accounts for approximately 4 percent of all thyroid cancers.
• Anaplastic carcinoma is the most undifferentiated type of thyroid cancer, meaning that it looks the least like normal cells of the thyroid gland. As a result, it is a very aggressive form of cancer that quickly spreads to other parts of the neck and body. It occurs in approximately 2 percent of thyroid cancer cases.
What Are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
Although the causes of thyroid cancer are still being investigated, there are certain factors that may increase an individual’s risk of developing the disease:
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• Gender and Age. Thyroid cancers occur approximately three times more frequently in women than men, although the reason for this difference is unknown. Women also tend to develop these cancers at an earlier age (40s to 50s) than men (60s to 70s).