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Types of Thyroid Cancer: Understanding What They Are and How They Differ

April 28, 2023
Medical technician watches screen while performing ultrasound scan on patient’s neck

All thyroid cancers start in the tissues of the thyroid gland. Located in the front of the neck, these glands have two lobes. They are part of the endocrine system and create hormones and are important in regulating metabolism, or how the body uses its energy. There are several different cancers of the thyroid, which require different treatments. The experienced team at Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, New York, provides screenings and treatment for thyroid cancer. Here, we explore the different types of the disease.

What Is Thyroid Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells mutate and grow uncontrollably. When this process takes place in the thyroid glands, it affects the functions of the whole body, including organs, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, digestion, and energy levels. However, the thyroid gland is made up of different kinds of cells, and each kind of cell can be a site for the development of cancer. The oncology services at Richmond University Medical Center offer testing, diagnosis, and treatments for all types of thyroid cancer.

How Do Types of Thyroid Cancer Differ?

The main types of thyroid cancer are categorized as differentiated, medullary, and anaplastic. Some of these cancers are quite rare. However, there are several types of thyroid cancer more commonly diagnosed in the U.S., including the following:

Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Developing from follicular cells, this cancer is often found in only one lobe of the thyroid and grows slowly. Early detection is ideal since the cancer can spread to the lymph nodes. It accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of thyroid cancer diagnoses.

Follicular Thyroid Cancer

Also developing from follicular cells, this cancer is less common than papillary thyroid cancer. It has been related to a diet that lacks iodine. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to the lungs or bones. Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for 10 to 15 percent of thyroid cancers found in the U.S.

Hürthle Cell Thyroid Cancer

This follicular cell thyroid cancer accounts for only about three percent of cases. It is more difficult to diagnose.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

Accounting for about three percent of all thyroid cancers, the tumor mass is very different from normal cells in the thyroid gland. Sometimes, but not always, this condition results from a genetic syndrome. It develops in C cells, which create a hormone called calcitonin within the thyroid gland.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

This rare type of thyroid cancer is found in less than two percent of diagnoses. Cancer specialists describe it as undifferentiated because the tumor cells are markedly different from the normal tissue found in the thyroid gland. It is an aggressive form of thyroid cancer.

How Is Thyroid Cancer Detected?

There are several symptoms related to the discovery of thyroid cancer. Patients who experience the following should contact a medical professional:

  • Lumps or swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Persistent pain in the throat or neck
  • Trouble breathing
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarseness or other changes to the voice

Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancers differ from one another by type, severity, and how much they have grown or spread. Depending on the particulars of the cancer, treatment options are individualized. When recommended cancer screening identifies and diagnoses thyroid cancer in its early stages, there are more options available to successfully treat this disease. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and oral medications. After treatment, patients are advised to have regular follow-up appointments and tests to minimize the chances of reoccurrence.

Seek Cancer Care at Richmond University Medical Center

It’s important for your overall wellness to keep up with regular appointments with your primary care physician and to schedule recommended screenings for cancers and other conditions. Richmond University Medical Center on Staten Island, New York, offers award-winning medical services, including cancer diagnoses and treatments. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or cancer screening.