It's not clear what causes thyroid cancer, but certain things can increase your chances of developing the condition. Thyroid cancer occurs when thyroid cells undergo genetic changes (mutations) that allow them to grow and multiply rapidly, and lose the ability to die as normal cells do. Abnormal cells that build up form a tumor, which can invade nearby tissue and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Though thyroid disease is common in the United States, thyroid cancer is extremely rare.
Only about 5 out of 100 thyroid lumps (5%) are cancerous. It's important to remember that while having a lump or nodule increases your risk, thyroid cancer is still rare. Learn more about thyroid conditions, such as hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer, so that you can assess your risk and address any concerns you have with your doctor. If you are at a higher risk of recurrence, your doctor may order a complete body scan with RAI tracers to detect any thyroid cells that could indicate a recurrence of thyroid cancer.
Changes in hair, nails, or skin, and other vague complaints can be caused by aging, diet, stress, or dozens of other factors. Most thyroid cancers differentiate, according to the American Cancer Society, which means that when viewed under a microscope, cells appear similar to normal thyroid cells. If you have medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), you may have regular tests for calcitonin, which is produced by thyroid cells called C cells. This test can usually reveal if there are cancer cells in the thyroid gland and, if they are, what type of thyroid cancer you have.
Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how much it has spread. Staging for papillary or follicular thyroid cancer is based on the person's age at diagnosis, specifically whether they are younger or older, and the extent to which thyroid cancer cells have spread. In most cases, surgery to remove the part of the thyroid gland that contains the lump or swelling will be recommended when it has not been possible to rule out thyroid cancer. If the thyroid gland does not produce the right amount of hormones that the body needs, you develop thyroid disease. A type of blood test known as a thyroid function test will measure hormone levels in the blood and rule out or confirm other thyroid problems. Thyroid cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the thyroid gland begin to divide and grow out of control. A blood test known as a thyroid function test is used to check if swelling in the neck is caused by other problems with the thyroid gland. Most differentiated thyroid cancers (papillary carcinomas and follicular carcinomas) and some medullary thyroid carcinomas have good prospects for a cure.
As an alternative to stopping thyroid medication, your doctor might suggest thyrotropin alfa, a recombinant (genetically modified) form of thyroid hormone. After treatment for thyroid cancer, you should not make thyroglobulin, a protein made by your thyroid gland.