Can thyroid cancer kill you?

Treatments for most thyroid cancers are very successful. Still, around 2,000 people die each year from the disease. Thyroid cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs and bone, and grow there. When cancer cells do this, it's called metastasis.

However, the type of cancer is based on the type of cells from which it originated. Most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer have an excellent prognosis, since most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment. The thyroid gland is below the Adam's apple (called thyroid cartilage) in the front of the neck. If your thyroid hormones are too low after surgery (hypothyroidism), your health care team may recommend thyroid hormones.

Most differentiated thyroid cancers (papillary carcinomas and follicular carcinomas) and some medullary thyroid carcinomas have good prospects of achieving a cure. Chemotherapy drugs used in thyroid cancer include taxanes (paclitaxel or docetaxel), anthracyclines (doxorubicin), and platinum analogs (cisplatin or carboplatin). If all or part of your thyroid gland is removed with surgery or destroyed with radiation, you will need to take thyroid hormone pills to replace the missing thyroid hormones your body needs. People exposed to radiation, or those with a history of benign thyroid disease, are more likely to have low levels of iodine.

The remaining patients have anaplastic thyroid cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body at the time of diagnosis. Chemotherapy is usually given as an enhancement to radiation to make the cancer more susceptible to radiation or to make radiation more effective. The function of the thyroid gland is to produce hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. More tests will be needed if the thyroid function test reveals that the thyroid gland is working normally.

Blood tests can determine if the thyroid gland's production of hormones is normal, overactive, or underactive. Taking higher doses of thyroid hormone can also help prevent some types of thyroid cancer from recurring. There are some newer drug treatments, called targeted therapy, that can be used for certain types of thyroid cancer. The stage of the cancer informs the care team about your prognosis and helps them select the treatment that is most likely to help you.

It is less predictable than other thyroid cancers; however, one thing that all long-term survivors have in common is a sense of urgency in diagnosis and treatment. The next step after diagnosis of thyroid cancer is to obtain a comprehensive, high-resolution ultrasound.

Greta Rulnick
Greta Rulnick

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