Thyroid Cancer - Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

The thyroid gland, shaped like a butterfly, sits just below the skin and several thin muscle layers in the lower part of the neck. It's attached to the deeper neck structures (trachea and voice box) and elevates when we swallow. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control a variety of systems all through out life including our metabolism, growth and development. Each year about 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It is about 2 to 4 times more common in women than in men, and is most prevalent between ages 25 and 65.

Thyroid cancer prognosis can occur during a routine physical exam. Your doctor may ask you about your medical history and can recommend screening tests for thyroid cancer before any symptoms appear.

Thyroid cancer symptoms usually begin as a lump or swelling in the neck, called a nodule. Thyroid nodules are very common (12% of general population) and most are benign. All nodules, however, need to be carefully evaluated as a very high percentage of nodules are cancerous (10-15%).

If you have a lump or nodule in your thyroid, your doctor may order a CT scan or an ultrasound to get a better look at your thyroid. If your doctor thinks that the lump or nodule could be cancerous, he or she will do a biopsy of the thyroid gland which involves removing a piece of your thyroid, often through a needle. This test is a simple procedure that can be done in your doctor's office.
Tests which may be done before, during, or after any thyroid cancer treatment may include specific blood tests, CT scans, chest X-rays, thyroid ultrasounds, or radioactive iodine scans, which help determine whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. In rare cases, when thyroid cancer has significantly spread, an MRI or a PET scan may be done.

Most thyroid cancers are very treatable and carry a high cure rate, especially when discovered early. Treatment of thyroid cancer requires a close collaboration between endocrinologists and thyroid surgeons. The treatment plan by our team of doctors is always decided through this collaboration. The first and most effective step in treatment of thyroid cancer is usually surgery. Thyroid cancer surgery involves removal of a portion (hemi-thyroidectomy) or the entire thyroid gland (total thyroidectomy).

The newest advances in the field of surgery (endoscopes and endoscopic instruments) allow for minimally invasive thyroidectomy (Endoscopic Assisted Thyroidectomy, E.A.T.TM) (as small as 2.5 cm or close to an inch), rather than the standard technique using a large incision and greater tissue trauma. This is a revolutionary way of surgically treating the thyroid, and because it involves a much smaller incision, it enables patients to go home the same day, with less scarring and quicker recovery time.



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