Facts About Thyroid Cancer
American Cancer Society
What is thyroid cancer?
As with other cancers, thyroid cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in any part of the body can become cancerous and spread to other parts of the body.
The thyroid gland
The thyroid gland is located below the Adam’s apple in front of the neck. In most people, the thyroid cannot be seen or felt. The thyroid gland is comprised of three cells:
- Follicular – These cells use iodine from the blood to make thyroid hormones. These hormones help to regulate the metabolism.
- C cells – These cells make calcitonin, a hormone that controls how the body uses calcium.
- Less common cells that include immune system cells (lymphocytes) and supportive cells (stromal).
Because cancer can affect any cell in the body, the differences are important because they affect how serious the cancer can be and what type of treatment is administered.
Lumps or bumps in the thyroid gland are called nodules. Most nodules are benign, but about 2 or 3 in 20 are cancerous. Sometimes these nodules can produce too much thyroid hormone, resulting in hyperthyroidism. Nodules that produce too much thyroid hormone are generally benign (not cancerous).These benign nodules are cysts usually filled with fluid or a stored thyroid hormone called colloid. Solid nodules, however, are more likely to be cancerous.
How common is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is not as common as other cancers, but the American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018:
- About 53,000 new cases (40,900 in women and 13,090 in men)
- About 2,060 deaths from thyroid cancer (1,100 women and 960 men)
Women are more likely to be affected by thyroid cancer than men. Nearly 3 out of 4 cases are found in women.
Compared to other cancers, the death rate for thyroid cancer is low and has remained consistently low for many years.
How is thyroid cancer treated?
Only your doctor can determine what treatment is right for you. He or she will work with you to develop a treatment plan. Treatment options include:
- Radioactive iodine treatment
- Thyroid hormone therapy
- Targeted therapy
- External beam radiation therapy
Treatment may include these healthcare professionals:
- Endocrinologist – a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones
- Radiation oncologist – a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
- Medical oncologist – a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer
- Nurses, social workers, psychologists, nurse practitioners, rehabilitation specialists, and others
Learn more about thyroid cancer and get answers to frequently asked questions at www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroid-cancer.html.