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What is a Thyroid Carcinoma?

Article Details
  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Thyroid carcinoma is a type of cancer that develops in the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located slightly above the collarbone. The thyroid gland produces several hormones that are crucial for metabolism and other important body mechanisms. Thyroid carcinoma is unique in that it can be treated via a method that affects only thyroid cells. This means that most cases of thyroid cancer respond very well to a treatment that causes almost no side effects.

The thyroid gland is part of a bodily system known as the endocrine system. It is the only gland or organ in the body to use iodine. The thyroid uses this mineral to produce thyroid hormone, which is instrumental in regulating metabolism. In addition, the thyroid produces hormones that regulate the body’s use of calcium.

When the thyroid gland is healthy, it is not noticeable, and cannot be felt. The first symptom of thyroid carcinoma often is a swelling in the neck, but other symptoms might also occur. Some people experience neck pain and hoarseness of the throat.

This type of cancer can affect anyone, but there are several factors that can increase the risk that it might occur. Thyroid carcinoma risk factors include being a woman, being of Asian ethnicity, being between 25 and 65 years old and having had radiation treatment of the neck or head. A family history of thyroid disease also increases the risk of thyroid cancer.

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Because the thyroid gland is the only structure in the body that absorbs and uses iodine, many thyroid cancers can be treated via a chemotherapy method that has high specificity for thyroid tumor cells. This treatment method involves the use of radioactive iodine, which is administered to the patient via injection or an oral pill. Once the radioactive iodine is in the body, it is absorbed by the thyroid gland. The radioactive material then kills off tumor cells and leaves other cells in the body unharmed.

This treatment completely avoids all of the unpleasant side effects that are part of most chemotherapy treatments. Radioactive iodine treatment does not cause pain, hair loss, nausea or diarrhea. The only danger involved with this treatment is the fact that the patient emits low levels of radiation while the iodine is in his or her system. For this reason, the patient must remain isolated for several days after the treatment. He or she also must avoid children, the elderly and pregnant women in particular, because these people are most at risk of the harmful effects of contact with the radiation.

This treatment for thyroid carcinoma generally is administered after surgery to remove the tumor. After the surgery and radiotherapy have been completed, the patient must take synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of his or her life. Generally, patients will undergo follow-up blood tests on an annual basis to ensure that they continue to receive an appropriate daily dose of thyroid hormone.

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