Norman Regional Health System

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

  • What is the thyroid?
  • Where is the thyroid located?
  • What is the function of the thyroid?

These are all very important questions. The thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck that looks like a butterfly and produces hormones which regulate the body's metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and bone maintenance.

Thyroid cancer, which affects women more often than men, cannot be prevented. However, the treatment for thyroid cancer has been found to be successful. Surgery can be performed as well as a therapy which includes radioactive iodine. After a thyroidectomy or the total removal of the thyroid gland, on-going hormone therapy is necessary. It is rare that thyroid cancer spreads throughout the body. However if indicated, radiation and chemotherapy can be considered in these situations.

The American Thyroid Association discusses four types of cancer. They are listed below in the order of most to least common.

  • Papillary Thyroid Cancer accounts for about 70% - 80% of the diagnosed cases and can affect people of all ages. Papillary cancer tends to grow slowly. Even if it spreads to the lymph nodes, the general outlook is still very positive.
  • Follicular Thyroid Cancer makes up 10% - 15% of thyroid cancer in the United States. This is a significant decrease in the number of cases compared to those with papillary thyroid cancer. Patients tend to be older in age. In addition to spreading to the lymph nodes, this type of cancer can grow in the blood vessels and possibly spread to the lungs and bones.
  • Medullary Thyroid Cancer – only accounts for 5% - 10% of all thyroid cancers. It could be based on hereditary and other endocrine problems. Genetic testing can be performed.
  • Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer only affects less than 2% of the patients with thyroid cancer. This cancer is the most aggressive type and least responsive to treatment.

According to Dr. Tom Connally, the Medical Director of the Norman Regional Health System Endocrine Surgery Program and an expert in the area of minimally-invasive thyroid and parathyroid surgeries, "It is important to discuss your treatment options with a physician to determine the most effective method for you based on your situation, age, health and medical history."

The overall prognosis for thyroid cancer is very optimistic, considering it is curable for the vast majority of patients diagnosed. And that is very good news for people facing a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.