Thyroid cancer is somewhat rare. Approximately 56,000 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer annually. Compare that to breast cancer, with close to 300,000 new cases annually. About three times more women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer than men, and it is most common after age 30.

Thyroid cancer symptoms include hoarseness, neck pain and enlarged lymph nodes.  These cancers can often be linked to exposure to radiation, although the cancer may occur years later.

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

Papillary and/or mixed papillary follicular thyroid cancer – This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, making up about 80 percent of diagnosed thyroid cancer. It is also the most treatable. In about half of cases it spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck. Treatment is generally limited to surgery, however, in some severe cases, radioactive iodide is used. Most patients recover fully from this type of cancer.

Follicular and/or Hurthie cell thyroid cancer – This thyroid cancer only occurs in about 15 percent of patients and is more aggressive than papillary thyroid cancer. While it is less likely to invade the lymph nodes than papillary cancer, follicular cancer can spread to the lungs, bone, brain, liver, bladder or skin. Treatments include thyroidectomy or, in some cases, radioactive iodide. Overall cure rate is high but decreases with age.

Medullary thyroid cancer – These tumors affect only about 3 percent of thyroid cancer sufferers. The other two more common thyroid cancers attack the thyroid hormone producing cells, Medullary thyroid cancer attacks cells that make a different hormone, called calcitonin, which has nothing to do with metabolism. A complete thyroidectomy is the usual treatment for this disease.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer – Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, affecting only 2 percent of thyroid cancer patients, however it is by far the most deadly. Most people diagnosed with this cancer are not alive a year later. The most common symptom is rapidly growing mass or lump on the neck. By the time of discovery, most of these cancerous tumors are aggressively attached to the vital neck structures and inoperable.

If you think you might have thyroid cancer and want to talk to a specialist, first see your family doctor. He or she will conduct preliminary tests. If there is a problem, ask him or her to refer you to PCI’s Ear, Nose and Throat specialists for care.