Cancer happens when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that forms in the thyroid is called thyroid cancer.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in front of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid controls the rate at which every part of the body works. This is called metabolism. The thyroid gland regulates the metabolism by making thyroid hormone, a chemical that carries messages from the thyroid to the rest of the body through the bloodstream. The thyroid also makes the hormone called calcitonin. This regulates how calcium is used in the body.
Cells in the thyroid may grow out of control, forming small lumps called nodules. The thyroid may also enlarge (swell). Thyroid cancer can spread from the thyroid to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. In general, the more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.
There are four main types of thyroid cancer (also called thyroid carcinoma):
Papillary carcinoma, which is the most common type
Medullary thyroid carcinoma
There are different types of thyroid cancer. You and your healthcare provider will discuss a treatment plan that is specific to your type of cancer and your personal needs. Treatment choices may include:
Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland
Radioiodine therapy, which uses radioactive iodine to destroy thyroid cancer cells in the body
External radiation therapy, which uses rays of energy directed right at the tumor to kill cancer cells
Hormone therapy, which blocks or removes the hormones that help the cancer grow
Chemotherapy, which uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells throughout the body
Targeted therapy, which targets the cancer cells' genes or proteins that allow cancer growth and survival