There are three main types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary thyroid cancer, the most common type, develops in the cells that produce thyroid hormone. It is most often treated with surgery, followed by radioiodine therapy and a type of hormone treatment called TSH suppression.
- Follicular thyroid cancer also develops in the cells that produce thyroid hormone. Although its pattern of growth is somewhat different from papillary thyroid cancer’s, it is generally treated in a similar fashion.
- Medullary thyroid cancer, the least common type, develops in cells that do not produce thyroid hormone. Surgery is the primary therapy for this type of cancer. Certain families are predisposed to develop this type of cancer and can be offered genetic testing to guide preventive care.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer is an extremely rare type of thyroid cancer that occurs almost exclusively in adults. Surgery is the primary therapy, followed by radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy.
Doctors have discovered that unusually high exposure to radiation can cause children to develop thyroid cancer—this is one reason that radiation is no longer used to treat benign conditions. And in rare cases, thyroid cancers can be familial. But the vast majority of children who develop thyroid cancer—about 90 percent—have no known risk factors for the disease whatsoever.
Early detection and prevention
As with other cancers, the outcome of thyroid cancer is best when it is diagnosed and treated in its early stages. Our thyroid program is designed to rapidly evaluate patients with thyroid masses in order to deliver individualized treatment.
Because medullary thyroid cancer sometimes occurs as part of a genetic disease, we typically offer genetic testing. If this testing shows that your child carries a genetic risk, your child’s physician will monitor your child and, in some cases, may suggest a prophylactic removal of your child’s thyroid.
When to seek medical advice
Often, a child’s thyroid cancer is detected by his primary care physician during the course of a routine well-child exam. But please don’t hesitate to contact your child’s doctor if you notice a lump in your child’s throat or if anyone in your family is diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer is unquestionably serious, and your child’s prognosis will of course depend on the type of cancer, when it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. Fortunately, most children with thyroid cancer do respond very well to treatment.
Q: Will my child be OK?
A: Thyroid cancer is unquestionably serious, and your child’s prognosis will of course depend on the type of cancer, when it is diagnosed and how it is treated. Fortunately, most children with thyroid cancer do respond very well to treatment.
Q: What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
A: Symptoms may include a lump in the neck, swollen lymph nodes, hoarseness or trouble with breathing or swallowing, but most children with thyroid cancer feel absolutely well at the time of diagnosis.
Q: Was my child’s cancer caused by exposure to radiation?
A: High radiation doses (such as those used to treat certain childhood cancers) may increase a child’s risk of developing thyroid cancer. Such exposures are fortunately very rare. In comparison, the radiation exposure from common radiology test (such as X-rays, CT imaging, or dental films) are very low and are not thought to increase a child’s risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Questions to ask your doctor
After your child is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, you may feel overwhelmed with information. It can be easy to lose track of the questions that occur to you.
Lots of parents find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise—that way, when you talk to your child’s doctors, you can be sure that all of your concerns are addressed.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What type of thyroid cancer does my child have?
- Has my child’s thyroid cancer spread?
- Can it be treated with surgery?
- How long will my child need to be in the hospital?
- What are the possible short and long-term complications of treatment? How will they be addressed?
- What is the likelihood of cure?
- What services are available to help my child and my family cope?
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