Thyroid cancer is a form of the disease that targets the small gland located at the base of the neck in front of the windpipe that produces hormones needed to regulate the body’s metabolism, such as triiodothyronine and thyroxine.
Without the right level of these hormones in production to moderate how the body stores and uses energy, many of its functions can gradually begin to slow down, affecting the internal organs.
“Cancer of the thyroid gland is rare, but increasing in incidence,” the British Thyroid Foundation states.
“Any cancer diagnosis is alarming, but thyroid cancer has a very high cure rate, and most patients go on to live a full and normal life.”
The condition is most common in people in their 30s and the over-60s, disproportionately impacting women, according to the NHS, who are said to be two to three times more likely to suffer from it than men.
The most common symptoms of the condition are as follows:
A painless swelling or lump on the throat (only one in 20 such lumps are cancerous, however)
Swollen glands in the neck
Sudden hoarseness that fails to improve after several weeks
A sore throat that persists without easing
Discomfort when swallowing
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you are advised to have them looked at by a GP, who will determine whether they are really indicators of cancer or something less serious.
After examining your neck, they may order a blood test to establish whether your thyroid is functioning healthily.
If they believe there is reason for concern, you will be referred to hospital for further tests with a specialist.
As to what causes thyroid cancer, the NHS explains that it happens “when there’s a change to the DNA inside thyroid cells which causes them to grow uncontrollably and produce a lump”.
It is not immediately clear what catalyses that change, according to the health service, but factors that can increase your risk of contracting thyroid cancer include a history of other thyroid conditions (overactive, underactive or inflammation), a family history of the disease, exposure to radiation in childhood, obesity or suffering from the bowel condition familial adenomatous polyposis or from acromegaly.
Thyroid cancer is treated in four ways: by the removal of the cancerous cells by surgery, by the administration of radioactive iodine, by external radiotherapy or by chemotherapy.
Regular follow-up appointments will then be required to ensure the cancer has not returned.
For more information on the condition, please visit the website of the British Thyroid Foundation.