Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland, in the front of the neck at the base of the throat. The cancer cells grow in the tissues of the thyroid gland, and the disease is characterized by the type of cells and where the cancer begins.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
- Papillary thyroid cancer: This is the most common type of thyroid cancer in the U.S. It accounts for more than 85% of cases. With timely diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people survive it.
- Follicular thyroid cancer: This is the second most common type of thyroid cancer in the U.S. and is very treatable.
- Medullary thyroid cancer: This type is rare and highly treatable. It sometimes runs in families. If inherited, it can occur alone (familial medullary thyroid cancer) or with other cancers (multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome).
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This type of thyroid cancer is the least common. It accounts for about 1% of cases. It is the fastest growing and most difficult to treat thyroid cancer.
Signs You Should Get Help for Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer usually doesn't cause symptoms in its early stages. But if you have any of the following symptoms or a family history of thyroid cancer, you should consult with your primary care doctor:
- A lump you can feel under the skin of your neck
- Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
- Pain or swelling in your neck
- A hoarse voice or difficulty speaking
These symptoms are not always signs of thyroid cancer. But if your doctor thinks you may have thyroid cancer, they may refer you to an endocrinologist, endocrine surgeon or otolaryngologist. These specialists may do a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, in which they use a thin needle to obtain a tissue sample, to determine if the growth is cancerous.
Thyroid Cancer Treatment at Rush
If you are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, your treatment will depend on many factors, such as the type and size of the tumor.
Rush takes a team approach to your thyroid cancer. We identify what's going on medically, explain it to you, and spend time getting to know you and understanding how you want to live. We give you options for how you could be treated, then work with you to personalize your treatment.
Surgical Options for Thyroid Cancer
- Thyroid removal: The most common treatment for thyroid cancer is a thyroidectomy, or the removal of all or part of your thyroid gland. Our surgeons are highly trained in minimally invasive techniques, which require only small incisions and will help you return to normal activities faster and get back to looking and feeling like yourself.
- Lymph node dissection: If the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes (small glands near the thyroid that hold white blood cells) your surgeon may also need to remove a group of them.
Nonsurgical Treatments for Thyroid Cancer
- Radioactive iodine therapy: If you have had your thyroid removed, you may take radioactive iodine, or I-131, to kill any thyroid cancer cells that remain in your body.
- Radiation therapy: Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy, though in most cases this is not needed. Radiation oncologists at Rush use advanced techniques that target the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting the surrounding tissue.
- Chemotherapy: If you have advanced thyroid cancer, including aplastic thyroid cancer or medullary cancer spreading beyond the neck, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy or cancer-fighting drugs.
- Thyroid hormone therapy: Your thyroid gland makes hormones that help many of your organs work normally. If you have it removed, you will need to take replacement thyroid hormone for the rest of your life.
Because thyroid cancer is a chronic disease, you will need ongoing treatment and surveillance. Our team will be here for you, continuing to provide the care and support you need.
Rush Excellence in Thyroid Cancer Care
- Nationally ranked cancer care: Rush University Medical Center is ranked among the best in the nation for cancer by U.S. News & World Report. They welcome your questions and will work with to create a personalized treatment plan to improve your quality of life and well-being.
- Team care focused on you: At Rush, you will be treated by a team of specialists, including endocrinologists; medical, surgical and radiation oncologists; and otolaryngologists/head and neck surgeons. Your team may meet together at a regular thyroid cancer tumor conference to share their expertise and discuss your treatment concerns. They then work with you to create a personalized plan that focuses on ensuring the best possible outcome and maintaining your quality of life.
- Highly skilled in minimally invasive surgical options: Experts at Rush are highly experienced in performing minimally invasive procedures for thyroid cancer, including thyroid removal, which requires only small incisions. Most patients are able to leave the hospital within a day and return to normal activities within one to two weeks.
- Parathyroid hormone monitoring during surgery: Patients who experience hypoparathyroidism after surgery may need to take calcium supplements. For other patients, these supplements may do more harm than good. Doctors at Rush University Medical Center offer advanced monitoring technology that can help predict which patients may need calcium supplementation after thyroid cancer surgery. This helps us to tailor treatment after surgery to each individual patient.
- Ongoing research for innovative treatments: Rush researchers continue to study new treatment options for thyroid conditions. By participating in a clinical trial at Rush, you have access to treatments that may not yet be available elsewhere.
- Personalized treatment through genetic data: Through our partnership with Tempus, a biotechnology company, we're able to further personalize your care using genetic testing. Understanding your tumor's genetic make-up can help us zero in on a targeted treatment, so you can avoid unnecessary surgeries and treatments.