The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the throat, beneath the Adam’s apple. This small organ produces hormones that help regulate the heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, and metabolism.
When cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the uterus, a cancer may develop. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, form a structure called a neoplasm. If this neoplasm destroys adjacent tissues, and/or spreads to other areas of the body, a cancer is formed.
Most neoplastic growth in the thyroid is benign, meaning that adjacent tissues are unharmed. These benign growths are typically asymptomatic and require no special attention. However, the detection of a lump in the neck warrants an immediate visit to your healthcare provider even in the absence of other symptoms.
Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors
Some of thyroid cancer’s risk factors include:
- Radiation Exposure: Research has unveiled a relationship between thyroid cancer and recipients of acne radiation therapies. Other forms of radiation, such as chemotherapy and nuclear fallout, can have similar cancer-causing effects, because radiation often results in cellular mutations.
- Gender: Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop a thyroid cancer. Experts are uncertain as to why this gender predominance occurs.
- Pregnancy Late in Life: Women who have been pregnant at age 30 or later are at a higher risk of developing a thyroid cancer.
- Age: For reasons that are uncertain, most thyroid cancers occur during young adulthood.
- RET Gene Abnormalities: An inherited defective RET gene can lead to the development of a thyroid cancer.
- Ethnicity: Caucasians develop more thyroid cancers than any other race or ethnicity.
- Cowden Disease: Cowden disease is a very rare genetic disorder that results in lesions on the hands and feet, face, and inside the mouth. The genetic anomalies that cause these lesions also increase an individual’s chances of developing thyroid cancer.
Thyroid Cancer Outlook
The outlook, or prognosis, for most thyroid cancer patients is excellent. If the cancer is detected early, most thyroid tumors are candidates for total surgical resection, often resulting in a complete cure.
Thyroid Cancer Prevention
The precise cause of thyroid cancer remains anonymous, making the disease impossible to avoid. The best preventative medicine for any cancer is a healthy diet, low-stress lifestyle, and regular exercise.
The following additional steps can also be taken reduce your chances of developing a thyroid cancer:
- Preventative (Prophylactic) Surgery: Individuals with an inherited RET gene flaw may choose to have their thyroid gland completely removed. This surgery greatly reduces the likelihood of developing a thyroid cancer. After all, it is difficult for a thyroid cancer to occur in the absence of a thyroid.
- Potassium Iodide Tablets: Government guidelines currently recommend that individuals within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant take potassium iodide tablets. These tablets, taken immediately before or after exposure to nuclear fallout, protect the thyroid from iodine 131 (a cancer-causing agent commonly found in radioactive material).
- Unsaturated Fats: A diet with an emphasis on unsaturated fats, such as the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, may help reduce your thyroid cancer risk.