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Your Guide to Thyroid Disease and Thyroid Cancer at Any Age

Nearly 30 million Americans are affected by thyroid disease, and The American Cancer Society reported that until recently, thyroid cancer was the “most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S., largely due to increased detection.”

Where is your thyroid gland and how do you know if you have an issue?

Your thyroid is a vital hormone gland and plays a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. It produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate; controlling heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. 

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the front of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple.

There are several illnesses and diseases related to your thyroid such as Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, Grave’s Disease, Hashimoto’s Disease, Goiter and Thyroid Cancer.

  • Hyperthyroidism is where your thyroid works more actively than it should. Symptoms include unexpected weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and irritability, though older patients often experience no symptoms. Although hyperthyroidism is associated with more energy, the body breaks down after a while, leading the person to feel more tired. 
  • Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Major symptoms include fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, and unexplained weight gain. Hypothyroidism can be managed with medication but if left untreated, it can lead to complications including heart problems, nerve injury, infertility and in some cases death. 
  • Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease in which the thyroid gland is gradually destroyed. Hashimoto’s disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage, leading to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood.
  • Grave’s disease, or Basedow’s disease, is an autoimmune condition that causes your thyroid to become hyperactive, working harder than it needs to.

Thyroid Cancer

Risk factors for thyroid cancer depend on the type of cancer.

Papillary Thyroid Cancer risk factors include radiation exposure, inherited conditions, family history and gender.

Follicular Thyroid Cancer is typically more aggressive than papillary thyroid cancer and risk factors include a low-iodine diet and inherited conditions like Werner’s syndrome and Cowden’s syndrome.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC) is different from other types of thyroid cancers because it originates from parafollicular, or C cells. The risk factor for MTC is family history.

Left untreated, Thyroid Disease can lead to serious health problems.