The incidence of papillary thyroid cancer in children is definitely higher than other forms of pediatric thyroid cancer. Given below is some information on the risk factors and treatment options for this medical condition in young children and adolescents.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located under the larynx. Follicular cells and parafollicular cells of the thyroid gland perform the function of producing certain hormones that help in regulating metabolism and aid in healthy functioning of the body. At times, an abnormal and uncontrollable cell division in the thyroid gland may give rise to the development of a malignant growth or tumor in the thyroid gland. Under such circumstances, one is diagnosed with thyroid carcinoma.
Papillary thyroid carcinoma, follicular thyroid carcinoma, medullary thyroid carcinoma and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma are all types of thyroid cancer. Though thyroid cancer is not very common in children, young children or teenagers, who have a family history of thyroid disorders, could develop this serious medical condition. Studies have revealed that out of the various types of thyroid malignancies, it is papillary thyroid cancer that affects children the most. Here’s some information on the symptoms and treatment of papillary thyroid cancer in children.
Symptoms Exhibited by Children Suffering from Papillary Thyroid Cancer
Papillary thyroid carcinoma is a differentiated thyroid cancer that occurs in the cells that produce the thyroid hormone called triiodothyroxine. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of cancer that affects adults in the age group of 30 to 50 years. It is believed that exposure to radiation and genetic predisposition are the most common risk factors.
Though the incidence of thyroid cancer is not very high in children, papillary carcinoma is the most common thyroid cancer type amongst pediatric thyroid malignancies. The abnormal and uncontrolled cell division in the affected cells gives rise to changes in the structure or appearance of the nuclei. These changes are manifested in the form of an irregular thyroid nodule. The thyroid nodule, may or may not be visible. It may affect one or both lobes of the thyroid gland.
Papillary carcinoma is not considered to be a very aggressive type of thyroid cancer, and the prognosis is good if detected in the early stages. In the first and the second stage of papillary cancer, the malignant growth is restricted to the thyroid gland and thus, the malignant growth can be easily removed. The prognosis also depends on the size of the malignant growth. Prognosis is fairly good if the tumor is less than half an inch in size.
A delay in the diagnosis would surely increase the risk and complicate matters. It is not uncommon for this cancer to spread to the cervical lymph nodes, which is the reason why children suffering from this cancer may suffer from swollen lymph nodes in the neck. As the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, the patient may experience symptoms such as changes in the voice quality, throat pain and swelling on cervical lymph nodes. He/she may also have trouble during breathing or swallowing.
Treatment Options for Children Diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer
Now that you have some idea about the risk factors and symptoms of papillary thyroid cancer, let’s move on to the diagnosis and treatment options. The prognosis of papillary thyroid cancer is quite good. While eighty to ninety percent of patients have a ten year survival rate, those who are cured in the initial stages, may live for decades. Children can completely recover from papillary cancer if the diagnosis and treatment is timely.
One must therefore, never ignore the symptoms associated with this condition. If there is swelling in the cervical lymph nodes, one must seek medical help immediately. In the initial stages, the size of the tumor is small and it is restricted to the thyroid gland. This is the time, when surgery can be easily performed for removing the cancerous growth. The risk of life-threatening complications can be lowered. The surgical procedure would certainly depend on the extent of the spread of cancer.
While a fine needle aspiration biopsy helps in determining whether the growth is benign or cancerous, other imaging procedures can help in ascertaining the spread of cancer. If cancer is restricted to a lobe or just a part of the lobe, and the chances of cancer spreading to the other parts of the thyroid gland are minimal, doctors may recommend the partial or total removal of the lobe. The partial or total removal of the lobe is medically referred to as partial lobectomy or lobectomy respectively. At times, the isthmus may also be surgically removed along with the affected lobe.
Modified radical neck dissection is another procedure that may be performed in order to remove the affected lymph nodes. Total thyroidectomy and subtotal thyroidectomy are extensive surgical procedures that involve with the total removal and the removal of almost the entire gland respectively. Removal of the entire gland is recommended if there is a risk of recurrence of cancer. After the surgery has been performed, radioactive therapy is often followed to destroy the cancerous cells that may be present. The child would also be required to take synthetic thyroxine after the surgery. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the patient would also have to undergo chemotherapy.
This was a brief overview of papillary thyroid cancer in children. In a majority of cases, by the time papillary cancer is diagnosed, it has already spread to the lymph nodes. Though the incidence of recurrence is higher in children, the prognosis is fairly good and the survival rate is high. Since early detection of this disease is certainly critical for successful treatment of thyroid cancer, children who seem to be exhibiting symptoms of this disease must be medically examined at the earliest.