What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is an endocrine gland in the neck, consisting of two connethyroidcted lobes. It is found at the front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple.

The gland secretes thyroid hormones, which influence the metabolic rate and protein synthesis, but also affect development. The thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) are created from iodine and tyrosine. The thyroid also produces the hormone calcitonin, which plays a role in calcium balance.

What is thyroid cancer?

It is a disease in which cells grow abnormally and have the potential to spread to other parts of the body There are four main types – papillaryfollicularmedullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

Diagnosis is often based on ultrasound and fine needle aspiration. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy including radioactive iodinechemotherapythyroid hormonetargeted therapy, and watchful waiting. Surgery may involve removing part or all of the thyroid.

Who might experience it?

Thyroid cancer accounts for less than 1% of cancer cases and deaths in the UK. Around 2,700 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the UK in 2011, and around 370 people died from the disease in 2012.

Risk factors include:

  • Radiation exposure (natural and environmental)
  • Enlarged thyroid
  • Family history
  • Age (35 – 65 years old)
  • More common in women
  • More common in people of Asian descent
  • Thyroiditis and other thyroid diseases predispose
  • Genetic factors e.g. multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2
  • Obesity


Adapted from Wikipedia.

For more information please visit the CRUK website.

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