Thyroid cancer is not the good cancer
Thyroid cancer had been one of most rapidly increasing cancers in the US, according to the American Cancer Society up until recently. It is certainly a misunderstood cancer. It is not “the good cancer.”
For 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates 43,800 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed this year, a slight increase from 2021, based on the American Cancer Society’s publication “Cancer Facts & Figures 2022.” The disease is expected to claim slightly more lives in 2022, with an estimated 2,230 deaths predicted.
Thyroid cancer will be the 13th leading cancer overall, according to the American Cancer Society for 2022. Thyroid cancer will be the 7th leading cancer in women for 2022 with an incidence rate of almost 3 times higher in woman than in men.
Thyroid cancer diagnosis has tripled in the past three decades, and funding for the disease has not kept up.
For those people diagnosed with thyroid cancer beyond the thyroid with distant-stage disease, the survival rate is 53% surviving at least five years. It is often wrongly represented as “the good kind of cancer,” but make no mistake, thyroid cancer is NOT the good kind of cancer.
What is a thyroid?
The thyroid is a critical organ in the body, impacting so many issues that are important to the body machine (such as making thyroid hormones that are carried in the bloodstream to every tissue in the body). The thyroid helps to keep many organs, such as the heart and brain, running correctly. The gland basically controls just about every cell in the body. It secretes the hormones T4 (thyroxine), T3 and calcitonin into the bloodstream. These hormones then control the rate for cells and organs to turn nutrients into energy and also the amount of oxygen cells use.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped organ that sits across the front of the neck. The voice box is above it. Its 2 "wings" are called lobes and they stretch around the windpipe. The placement of the thyroid makes surgery a challenge as many other organs can be damaged or impacted such as the vocal cords, trachea, and critical nerves.
What thyroid cancer really is
Thyroid cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow in the thyroid gland. The abnormal cells mutate, causing them to grow quickly and multiply, and they don’t repair themselves or die, as normal cells do. The collection of abnormal cells results in a tumor. Not all tumors are malignant (cancerous); some can be benign (non-cancerous). If the abnormal cells in the thyroid spread to other parts of the body, the cancer is said to have metastasized.
The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped and located at the front of the neck just below the voice box. It is responsible for producing hormones that are sent to virtually every part of the body. It has two principal types of cells: follicular cells produce thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism and C cells (also known as parafollicular cells), make calcitonin, a hormone that helps regulate the body’s calcium levels. There are different types of thyroid cancer, depending on which cells are affected.
Many thyroid cancer patients do not detect any symptoms early on. Sometimes, a patient can feel a lump in their neck, which is often not painful. A doctor may also find a lump when doing a routine exam. Other symptoms can include any of the following:
Swollen lymph nodes in neck
Pain in neck, ears, or throat
Trouble breathing or wheezing
Changes to the voice, including hoarseness
Frequent cough not accompanied by other obvious illness
Doctors check the thyroid by palpating (touching and feeling) the neck area where it is located. If swelling or a lump is detected, he or she may order a blood test, ultrasound, radioiodine scan, or a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the thyroid so its cells can be tested.
The Four Types of Thyroid Cancer
Papillary thyroid cancer: Constituting approximately 80% of all thyroid cancers, papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type. It develops from the follicular cells and usually grows very slowly. Although it can occur at any age, it most commonly found in those aged 30-50. Papillary thyroid cancer usually has a good prognosis and is usually not fatal.
Follicular thyroid cancer: As its name suggests, follicular thyroid cancer also develops from the follicular cells. It constitutes only 10% of thyroid cancers, usually affecting those over the age of 50 or people from countries with iodine-deficient diets. One subtype of follicular thyroid cancer is called Hurthle cell, which is less common but also potentially much more aggressive.
Medullary Thyroid Cancer: Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) develops from the C cells. It often causes the thyroid to release too much calcitonin and a protein called carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) into the blood, which can be detected through simple blood tests. MTC constitutes approximately 4% of all thyroid cancers. The peak onset age for MTC ranges from 30-60, depending on the subtype; however, there are children being diagnosed too.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer: Constituting less than 2% of all thyroid cancers, anaplastic thyroid cancer is the rarest type. It is very difficult to treat as it tends to grow and spread very quickly. It is also the one type of thyroid cancer whose cells don’t look like normal thyroid cells when examined under a microscope. It is most commonly found in those aged 60 and over.
More about medullary thyroid cancer and subtypes
Nikki Ferraro founded Bite Me Cancer after being diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is the third most common type, and is more commonly found in females than males, except for the cases of inherited cancers.
MTC usually originates in the upper central lobe of the thyroid. During the early stages of the disease, it can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck; in late stages, it may spread to more distant organs.
Treatment for MTC typically entails surgically removing the thyroid gland and surrounding lymph nodes and tissue in the neck. Unlike other forms of thyroid cancer, MTC does not respond to radioactive iodine therapy. Recurrence of MTC can be detected by checking calcitonin and CEA levels in the blood. MTC has a much lower cure rate than the differentiated thyroid cancers (papillary and follicular), although one that is higher than anaplastic thyroid cancer.
Sporadic MTC: Almost 80% of MTC is sporadic, meaning it is not genetically transferred. Familial MTC refers to types of MTC which are genetically transferred.
Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) II: MEN II is a type of inherited MTC in which additional glands in the endocrine system also form a tumor or are overactive. It can occur at any age and affects men and women equally. MEN II further subdivides into two types:
MEN II-A (Sipple Syndrome): Syndrome is a medical term for conditions occurring in groups of three, although not all patients will experience all of them. MEN II-A usually entails, in addition to tumors in the thyroid gland, tumors in the adrenal glands (which produce important hormones such as adrenaline), and overactive parathyroid glands (which help regulate calcium levels in the blood). The disease is passed to offspring through a defect in a gene which controls the growth of endocrine tissues.
MEN II-B: MEN II-B shares two of its three conditions with MEN II-A: tumors in the thyroid and adrenal glands. Its third condition entails tumors in the mouth, digestive problems, as well as muscle, joint, and spinal problems. MEN II-B can be both familial and sporadic (may be inherited or not).
Inherited Medullary Carcinoma without Associated Endocrinopathies: Inherited MTC without associated endocrinopathies is a form of medullary thyroid cancer that is not associated with other conditions. It is the least aggressive form of MTC.
For Medullary Thyroid Cancer
In December 2020, the FDA approved pralsetinib (now called Gavreto) for Medullary Thyroid Cancer. Read more.
In May 2020, the FDA approved a new drug for Medullary Thyroid Cancer. In clinical trial, it was called LOXO-292 and now called Retevmo. Read more.
On November 29, 2012, the FDA approved Cometriq (cabozantinib) to treat metastasized medullary thyroid Cancer.
On April 6, 2011, the FDA approved vandetanib (trade name Caprelsa), the first chemotherapy drug for the treatment of medullary thyroid cancer.
For Differentiated (Papillary and Follicular) Thyroid Cancer
On September 17, 2021, the FDA approved Cabometyx for patients with previously treated radioactive iodine-refractory differentiated thyroid cancer.
On February 13, 2015, the FDA approved the drug Lenvima (lenvatinib) to treat progressive, differentiated thyroid cancer in which radioactive iodine therapy did not prevent progression.
On November 22, 2013, the FDA approved the drug Nexavar (sorafenib) to treat cases of metastic differentiated thyroid cancer in which radioactive iodine is no longer effective.
Clinical trials for thyroid cancer
Clinical Trials for Thyroid Cancer
Information about clinical trials for thyroid cancer can be found on the following websites:
A database of clinical research trials for diseases, including thyroid cancer, maintained by the U.S. government.
A database of all clinical trials sponsored by The National Cancer Institute.
A searchable compendium of public and private clinical trials for all thyroid diseases, including cancer, maintained by The American Thyroid Association (ATA). The trials found here have been screened by the ATA.
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