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Thyroid Cancer

Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

UT Southwestern Medical Center uses evidence-based medicine to provide an exceptional level of care for patients with thyroid cancer. Through collaboration, compassionate care, and extensive training with the latest scientific advances, we’re committed to putting our patients first.  

As the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas, we deliver the best cancer care available today and push to discover new treatments. NCI designation means we offer patients the ability to participate in the broadest possible range of clinical trials, with access to potential therapies not available at other facilities.

Comprehensive Care for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer occurs in the thyroid, a gland in the neck at the base of the throat. It is shaped like a butterfly and has right and left lobes. The thyroid produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.

Thyroid cancer is one of the fastest-growing cancer diagnoses because more early-stage cancers are being detected. With proper treatment, the prognosis for patients is usually good. 

UT Southwestern has experience that makes a difference in evaluating and managing thyroid nodules and treating thyroid cancer. 

Highlights of our program include:

  • Multidisciplinary care teams bring together endocrinologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and ear, nose, and throat experts.
  • Our endocrinologists streamline initial evaluations – we’re often able to perform a physical exam, bedside ultrasonography, and thyroid nodule biopsies during the same visit.
  • Our surgeons perform hundreds of thyroid cancer surgeries each year.
  • We focus on scientific literature and evidence-based approaches to treatment

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid conditions that we specialize in treating include:

  • Thryoid nodules: Mostly benign lumps within the thyroid gland, usually causing problems only if they grow too big or produce too much thyroid hormone. A few thyroid nodules also can harbor thyroid cancer.
  • Papillary thyroid cancer: The most common type of thyroid cancer, papillary carcinomas are slow-growing, differentiated cancers that develop from thyroid follicular cells in one or both lobes of the thyroid. This cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, but it is generally treatable with a good prognosis.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer: The second most common type of thyroid cancer, it develops from thyroid follicular cells and tends to grow slowly. It does not usually spread to nearby lymph nodes, but it is more likely than papillary cancers to spread to other areas, such as to the lungs or the bones. 
  • Medullary thyroid cancer: Begins in thyroid C cells that produce the hormone calcitonin, which regulates calcium and phosphate blood levels and promotes bone growth. Elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can be an indication of medullary thyroid cancer. This form of thyroid cancer is often associated with disorders of other endocrine glands. 
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: Only about 1 percent of all thyroid cancers are this aggressive form of the disease, and it is usually associated with a poor prognosis. 

We offer comprehensive thyroid cancer treatment that we personalize to meet each patient’s specific needs. 

Symptoms and Risk Factors

Thyroid cancer does not always cause symptoms. Often, the first sign of thyroid cancer is a thyroid nodule. Only about 5 to 17 percent of thyroid nodules harbor thyroid cancer, and most are benign (noncancerous) and cause no problems if left untreated. 

Many thyroid cancers are detected in the early stages when patients or their doctors find nodules in their thyroids either during a physical exam or as an incidental finding on a radiological study. Some doctors suggest that patients do self-examinations of their neck carefully twice a year. Primary care doctors can include a cancer-related exam in an annual check-up. 

Symptoms

Although thyroid cancer most often is discovered early and is not associated with any particular symptoms other than a lump (nodule) in the region of the thyroid, sometimes symptoms can include:

  • Change in voice or hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing solid foods
  • Persistently swollen (non-tender) lymph nodes in the neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the front of the neck 

Risk Factors

Although the causes of thyroid cancer are not well understood, several factors can increase the risk of developing the disease: 

  • Radiation exposure: Radiation treatments to the head and neck, especially during childhood, can lead to thyroid cancer. Tests that use radiation to make a medical diagnosis – such as dental X-rays or mammograms – do not cause thyroid cancer.
  • Gender and age: For unknown reasons, thyroid cancers occur about three times more often in women than in men, although thyroid nodules that occur in men and children are more indicative of thyroid cancer than those that occur in women.
  • Family history of thyroid cancer: Some types of thyroid cancer are associated with genetics. Approximately 5 percent of bone medullary thyroid cancers and 25 percent of medullary thyroid cancers are hereditary. The management of thyroid nodules is different for patients who have first-degree relatives with thyroid cancer. 

Support Services

It’s our goal to treat the whole patient – not just the thyroid cancer. We understand that patients often need support beyond their cancer treatment. We offer speech therapy, physical therapy, rehabilitation, support groups, nutrition counseling, cancer psychology, and more to help patients deal with issues that can arise during or after their cancer treatment. 

Clinical Trials

Our robust clinical trials program allows patients with thyroid cancer to access new treatments years before they are offered to the public. Our thyroid cancer specialists can help patients determine if they are eligible to participate in a clinical trial related to their condition.

Find a Clinical Trial

We have a wide range of clinical trials open to patients with all stages of cancer. Search for opportunities to participate in a cancer study.

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