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Thyroid Cancer Survival

Thyroid Cancer Survival

Thyroid cancer can be asymptomatic in the early stages. This HealthHearty article explains how the relative survival rates for thyroid cancer depend upon the age of the patient, type of thyroid cancer, and stage of the cancer at the time of diagnosis.
Rahul Thadani
Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US. It is more common in women than men. Studies show that it occurs about 3 times more often in women than in men. The exact medical reasons for this are unknown. Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but nearly 2 out of 3 cases are found in people younger than 55 years of age.

Although the exact cause of thyroid cancer is not known, certain risk factors for the cancer have been identified. A family history of goiter, exposure to high levels of radiation, low-iodine diet, and certain hereditary syndromes can increase your risk for thyroid cancer. Surgery helps remove localized cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and radioactive iodine treatment are some other treatment options that are available.

Compared with most other cancers, thyroid cancer has a very low death rate. And the death rate has been fairly stable for many years. An ultrasound test helps detect very small thyroid nodules. So, chances of being diagnosed with early stage thyroid cancer have risen in recent years. This has significantly influenced the thyroid cancer survival rate. The survival rate and prognosis of thyroid cancer depend upon the age of the patient, the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has metastasized.
Thyroid Cancer Basics
Before we delve into the survival rate statistics, let us get a better understanding of the condition itself. There are several types of thyroid cancer. The main types are described below:
  • Papillary Cancer: This is found in about 86% of thyroid cancer patients, making it the most common type. It usually develops in one lobe of the thyroid gland, and is easy to remove. It is rarely fatal. Although it tends to grow slowly, it can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Follicular Cancer: This is detected in around 9-10% of thyroid cancer cases, and is the second most common type of thyroid cancer. People who do not get sufficient amount of iodine through diet are more likely to suffer from this type of cancer. It usually does not spread to lymph nodes, but it can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or bones. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help cure the disease.
  • Medullary Cancer: This affects around 2-4% of thyroid cancer patients. Unlike the previous two types, this does not originate in the cells that produce the thyroid hormone. Instead, it originates in the C cells which produce the hormone Calcitonin. It sometimes runs in families.
  • Anaplastic Cancer: This is the least common and the most dangerous of all types, and the survival rate for this cancer is much lower than that for the others. This accounts for less than 2% of all thyroid cancer. It spreads to the lymph nodes very quickly. Men/women aged over 65 are more prone to this cancer. As the cancer cells grow and spread aggressively, it is difficult to control.
Factors Influencing Survival
A change in voice, pain or discomfort in neck, difficulty in swallowing, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, lumps/nodules in front of the neck are some of the important symptoms of thyroid cancer. If anyone notices any of these symptoms, he/she should see a doctor immediately. If it is thyroid cancer, the test reports will help determine the stage of the cancer. Thyroid biopsy, CEA blood test, calcitonin blood test, genetic testing, physical exam, an X-ray, CT scan, PET scan, an ultrasound, and MRI, etc., can help confirm the diagnosis and determine staging.

The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. It should be noted that many people live much longer than 5 years, and many are completely cured. Thyroid cancer survival rate will depend on many different factors like:
  • The age of the individual
  • General health of the individual
  • Type of thyroid cancer
  • The size and number of tumors, and how far the cancer has spread (stage of the cancer).
  • The damage that has been caused by the cancer
  • Whether or not the cancer has metastasized to neighboring organs like the lungs, bones, and to distant organs like the liver.
Depending on all these factors, the severity of the condition is determined. This information helps doctors and medical experts determine the survival prognosis for the afflicted patients. This following table will give you a general idea about the 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Stage of the Cancer Papillary Cancer Follicular Cancer Medullary Cancer Anaplastic Cancer
Stage I Near 100% Near 100% Near 100% Not Applicable
Stage II Near 100% Near 100% 98% Not Applicable
Stage III 93% 71% 81% Not Applicable
Stage IV 51% 50% 28% 7%

As you can see from the table, the five year survival rate is generally quite high for this condition. It is only when the cancer reaches the more advanced stages that the rate drops. It drops significantly in case of Anaplastic cancer though.
Those who are diagnosed with this condition can make a full recovery from it, as long as the right treatment methods are administered, and as long as the diagnosis is done at a relatively early stage. Every case of cancer is unique, and the rate of growth of cancer can vary from person to person. It should be kept in mind that statistics are usually used by scientists for their research programs. They should not be used to predict the life expectancy of a patient. Unconditional love, family support, and will power of the patient play an important role in recovery.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.