The thyroid gland is a very important gland that controls a number of vital bodily functions. It is often described as butterfly-shaped and located around the windpipe just below the Adam’s apple in the neck.
The pituitary gland, located between the eyes in the front of the brain, sends chemical signals to the thyroid, instructing it what to do or what and how much of the various hormones are needed for the rest of the body. The thyroid’s hormones control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, the rate food is converted into energy, weight, absorption of calcium and is vital in the growth and development of children.
The thyroid utilizes iodine as one of the main ingredients in some of the important hormones it produces, which is why most table salt sold in stores is iodized.
Many people suffer from low thyroid production which in most cases makes the person tired and overweight. However, there are exceptions. My wife has had a low thyroid for many years and at first doctors ran blood tests twice to verify as at the time she stood about 5’10” and weighed 109 pounds.
In addition to the many cases of low thyroid, studies indicate that since 1975, the rate of thyroid cancer diagnosed has more than tripled. There are five basic 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 with a good prognosis (outlook for survival).
- 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. Follicular carcinoma is also a differentiated form of thyroid cancer. In most cases, it is associated with a good prognosis, although it is somewhat more aggressive than papillary cancer. Follicular carcinomas do not usually spread to nearby lymph nodes, but they are more likely than papillary cancers to spread to other organs, like the lungs or the bones.
- 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. Approximately 4 percent of all thyroid cancers will be of the medullary subtype. These cancers are more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other organs, compared with the more differentiated thyroid cancers. They also frequently release high levels calcitonin and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), which can be detected by blood tests.
- 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.
The symptoms of thyroid cancer include neck pain, changes in the voice, difficulty breathing and swallowing and coughing. It is often detected by noticing a lump in the throat. The most common diagnostic tools used to confirm thyroid cancer are a needle biopsy and ultrasound.
In the report on the increase in the number of cases of thyroid cancer, some believe it may be due to better diagnostic methods, but a recent study of more than 77,000 cases of thyroid cancer says that it is a real growing threat:
“‘While overdiagnosis may be an important component to this observed epidemic, it clearly does not explain the whole story,’ said Dr. Julie Sosa, one of the authors of the new study and the chief of endocrine surgery at Duke University in North Carolina.”
“Sosa, along with epidemiologists at the National Cancer Institute, acknowledged in their new study that better tools — from diagnostic ultrasound to fine-needle biopsies — have improved doctors’ ability to detect thyroid cancers. But the study, published today (March 31) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said that thyroid cancer is a real, growing threat, as shown by the increasing cases of a type of thyroid cancer called advanced stage papillary thyroid cancer, along with a steady rise in deaths from the disease.”
“In the study, the team analyzed more than 77,000 cases of thyroid cancer documented in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) database between 1974 and 2013. Along with the tripling in cases over that period, the researchers noted that between 1994 and 2013, cases of advanced forms of thyroid cancer rose by about 3 percent each year, and deaths from the disease rose by about 1 percent each year.”
“In the period from 1974 to 1977, there were 4.6 cases of thyroid cancer per 100,000 people diagnosed yearly in the U.S. That number reached 14.4 cases per 100,000 people yearly in the period from 2010 to 2013.”
“Currently, more than 60,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with a form of thyroid cancer, according to the NCI. About 75 percent of these patients are women, and 82 percent are white, the researchers found.”
“That deaths from thyroid cancer are increasing, despite it being among the most treatable and least lethal forms of cancer, is worth noting, Sosa said.”
A 2010 report gives hope to some people with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. The report stated that only about 5% of thyroid cancers are the very aggressive form and treatment is usually done by chemotherapy as surgery and radiation are not generally effective. Researchers treated 37 people with the very aggressive form of thyroid cancer with a new drug called pazopanib. They said that close to half of those patients saw their thyroid tumors decrease by at least 30%.
Please take note that if you notice a lump in your neck below the Adam’s apple or your voice has changed, you develop difficulty in breathing or swallowing, please see your doctor as soon as possible. Thyroid cancer is on the rise and is treatable, especially when caught early one.