We understand how overwhelming a diagnosis of thyroid cancer can be. Right now, you probably have a lot of questions. What is it? What is the best treatment? What do we do next?
We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions in the following pages, and our experts can explain your child’s condition fully when you meet with us.
Types of thyroid cancer
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 than 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 preventative 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.
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?
Keep family and friends up to date during your child’s treatment by creating a free Children’s CarePage.