Uncommon cancer

Hereditary factors, gender and age increase the risk of thyroid cancer. It is important to know its risk factors, symptoms and treatment options, says Dr Somashekhar.

Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer, but its treatment has a high success rate. However, even after successful treatment, thyroid cancer recurs in a large number of people. It is a malignant disease that can spread to the lungs, liver and bones. There are four types of thyroid cancer. Ninety per cent of the cases are papillary and follicular, while the other two, medullary and anaplastic are rarer in their occurrence. Thyroid cancer cases have been growing rapidly over the recent years. In India, over 100,000 estimated new cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed each year. Research has shown that certain elements such as hereditary factors, gender and age increase the risk of this cancer.

It occurs approximately three times more frequently in women than men and the reason for this is still unknown. Women also tend to develop this cancer at an earlier age when compared with men. Certain inherited genetic abnormalities are associated with the development of different types of thyroid cancer; so, if you are genetically predisposed you must visit a doctor for regular check-ups and watch out for symptoms such as appearance of a neck swelling, change in voice or hoarseness, persistent neck pain and difficulty in swallowing, because, if we can catch it early, we can treat it successfully.

Thyroid cancer is diagnosed by conducting a physical exam and your doctor may also order blood tests and do an ultrasound. Thyroid cancer treatment consists of surgical removal of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy), radioactive Iodine remnant ablation (RAI) to destroy any remaining normal thyroid tissue and long-term monitoring to check recurrence. Most doctors recommend at least one round of RAI to reduce the chances of recurrence. A recombinant human thyroid stimulating hormone (rhTSH) is administered at this stage to overcome any complications a patient may face from hypothyroidism. Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat advanced thyroid cancer or thyroid cancer that has recurred after treatment.

This treatment regimen is effective for most patients, but does not guarantee
being cancer-free for life. Thyroid cancer can recur even years after treatment, so monitoring is an essential requirement which must not be taken lightly. Thyroid cancer when compared to other types of cancer is not so common. So it is more
important to understand its risk factors, early symptoms, treatment options and the monitoring process for a better cure.

(The author is chairman & HOD, surgical oncology, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru)

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