Thyroid Cancer Essay

This essay has a total of 1996 words and 8 pages.

Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid gland is the gland that makes and stores hormones that help regulate the heart
rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and metabolism. Thyroid hormones are essential for
the function of every cell in the body. They help regulate growth and the rate of chemical
reactions in the body. Thyroid hormones also help children grow and develop. The thyroid
gland is located in the lower part of the neck, below the Adam's apple, wrapped around the
trachea. It has the shape of a butterfly with two lobes attached to one another by a
middle part called the isthmus. The thyroid uses iodine, a mineral found in some foods and
in iodized salt, to make its hormones. The two most important thyroid hormones are
thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The thyroid gland also makes the hormone
calcitonin, which is involved in calcium metabolism and stimulating bone cells to add
calcium to bone.

Thyroid caner is a disease in which the cells of the thyroid gland become abnormal, grow
uncontrollably and form a mass of cells called a tumor. Some tumors grow and enlarge only
at the site where they began. These types of tumors are referred to as benign tumors.
Other tumors not only enlarge locally, but they also have the potential to invade and
destroy the normal tissues around them and to spread to other regions of the body. These
types of tumors are called malignant tumors or cancer.() Malignant tumors of the thyroid
gland tend to develop gradually and remain localized. The tumors usually appear as nodules
or lumps of tissue growing on or inside the gland itself. Almost 95% of these lumps or
nodules are non-cancerous (benign), and are usually caused by thyroid conditions such as
goiters (Shin 422). The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 23,600
new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2004 (Thackery 1057). Women are three times
more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men. Although the disease also affects younger
people, most people who develop thyroid cancer are over 50 years of age. Caucasians are
affected more often than African-Americans (Rubin 88).

There are four main types of thyroid cancers: papillary, follicular, medullary, and
anaplastic. These tumors are identified by the type of cells seen under the microscope.
Papillary thyroid tumors occur most often. This type of thyroid cancer develops on one or
both sides of the gland and remains confined for several years and accounts for 60% - 80%
of all thyroid cancers (Thackery 1057). Follicular tumors, on the other hand, grow only on
one side of the gland. These tumors develop in the hormone-producing cells and account for
30% - 50% of all thyroid cancers (Thackery 1057). Medullary thyroid tumors account for 5%
- 7% of all thyroid cancers, and are usually uncommon. Like papillary tumors, they grow on
one or both sides of the gland. Anaplastic tumors, though extremely rare, develop on
either side of the thyroid gland and spread rapidly to other parts of the body. It account
for only 2% of all thyroid cancers but is the fastest growing, and most aggressive thyroid
cancer type (Thackery 1057).

The aggressiveness of each type of thyroid cancer is different. There are four main stages
in each of the types of thyroid cancer except for anaplastic cancer (Rubin 91). In the
stage I of papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, the cancer is located only in the
thyroid and may be found in one or both of the lobes. In stage II if the patients are
younger than 45 years of age, the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid. But if the patient
is older than 45 years of age, the cancer is only in the thyroid and is larger than 1
centimeter. In stage III, the cancer is usually found in patients older than 45 years of
age and has spread outside of the thyroid or has spread to the lymph nodes but not outside
of the neck. In stage IV, the cancer is again usually found in patients over the age of
45. It most likely has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs or bones
(Thackery 1058). Medullary thyroid cancer is quite uncommon. In stage I, the is located in
one or both of the thyroid glands and is about 1 centimeter in size, but throughout the
last three stages of medullary thyroid cancer, the tumor grows by 1-4 centimeters and
continuously spreads to other parts of the body (Shin 93). There is no staging system for
anaplastic cancer of the thyroid. This cancer is located in either of the lobes and
spreads faster than any of the other types (Thackery 1058).

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is not known but some risk factors have been identified.
From the early 1950's to the late 1960's, thousands of children received radiation to
treat acne and to reduce infection of the tonsils, adenoids and lymph nodes (Shin 419). It
has been proven that radiation is a risk factor for thyroid cancer. Another risk factor is
diets that are low in iodine. In parts of the world that have low iodine diets papillary
and follicular cancers occur more frequently (Ruben 86). Other risks factors for thyroid
cancer include patients with a family history of thyroid cancer. Approximately 7% of
thyroid cancer is caused by alteration of a gene called the RET oncogene, which can be
inherited (Thackery 1057). Symptoms are rare, and the lump is not usually painful. The
lump that can be felt in the neck is the most frequent sign of thyroid cancer. Swelling of
the lymph nodes are another symptom. Such symptoms could possibly be roughness or a slight
change in the voice due to pressure from the tumor on the nerve connected to the voice box
or, difficultly in swallowing or breathing due to a tumor obstructing the esophagus or
trachea (Longe 3306).

Most cases of thyroid cancer are found during a routine physical examination. If the gland
appears to be enlarged, the physician may order further tests to diagnose or rule out
cancer. These tests include: a CT scan or ultrasonography. The ultrasound uses
high-frequency sound waves that are emitted and received by a transducer that is passed
over the neck region. The sound waves penetrate the body, and by electronic readings, the
sound waves are arranged on a computer screen into a picture image of the thyroid gland
and any tumors (Thackery 1058). Another test used is the thyroid scan. A patient is given
radioactive iodine to drink. After the iodine has been absorbed by the thyroid, the
patient must lie on his or her back with the neck region positioned under a scanner. The
information received by the scanner is then sent to a computer that displays a
2-dimensional image of the thyroid used to identify areas in the thyroid that do not
absorb iodine normally (Surks 165). The most accurate diagnostic tool for thyroid cancer
is biopsy. The test is done in a hospital operating room under a general anesthesia. A
sedative is usually given by an injection about one hour before the procedure. A small
incision is made in the neck, and either side of the thyroid or the entire lump is
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