The Importance of Early Detection in Thyroid Cancer Prognosis

Most thyroid cancers are treatable. As a matter of fact, thyroid cancer has one of the highest patient survival rates among all types of cancers, with the average five-year survival rate currently at 97.9%. Many endocrine oncologists advocate early detection or diagnosis of small thyroid cancers so that the cancerous tissues can be removed at a time when they have not yet developed into aggressive malignancies.

The good news is that most thyroid cancers can now be found early, thanks to more advanced laboratory and imaging methodologies, as well as better awareness about cancer symptoms among the general public.

Often, thyroid cancers are found when the patients themselves discover the lumps or nodules and go to their doctors to have the problem checked. Other times, the cancers are found when health care professionals do routine medical examination of patients or when the patients receive imaging tests for other health conditions.

You are encouraged to examine your own neck at least twice a year so that you can check it for abnormal lumps or growths. If you have a family history of thyroid cancer, ask your doctor if regular screening tests like neck ultrasound, blood exams, and genetic testing is recommendable. Genetic testing can help you find out whether you carry the gene associated with diseases like medullary thyroid cancer.

Thyroid Cancer Types and Stats

Thyroid cancer—a disorder in which malignant cells grow in the thyroid gland—is the most common type of endocrine cancer. The American Cancer Society has estimated that in 2015, more than 15,200 men and over 47,200 women will be diagnosed with the disease. The National Cancer Institute also estimates that approximately 1.1 % of American men and women will develop thyroid cancer at some point during their lifetime.

Thyroid cancer prognosis is directly related to the kind of thyroid cancer a patient has and what stage it is at when diagnosed.  Below is a summary of the different types of thyroid cancers:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer – Up to 90% of thyroid cancer cases are papillary thyroid carcinoma. It is a slow-growing type of cancer that typically affects women and children. Papillary thyroid cancer can be removed surgically, and prognosis is often very good. Many individuals who have this type of thyroid cancer are able to return to their normal lives, often living healthy for many years after their treatment.
  • Follicular and Hurthle Cell thyroid cancer – Follicular thyroid cancer is a type of thyroid cancer that occurs more frequently in middle-aged women. As opposed to spreading to the lymph nodes, follicular cancer tends to spread through the blood stream into the lungs and bones. The Hurthle Cell variant of this disease, however, is more likely to spread to the lymph nodes. Follicular and Hurthle Cell thyroid cancers together make up about 5% of all thyroid cancer cases.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer – Originating from the parafollicular cells of the thyroid gland, medullary thyroid cancer patients represent between 3 to 10% of all thyroid cancer cases. This type of cancer occurs in individuals with hereditary endocrine tumor syndromes.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer – Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer characterized by its aggressive nature and its resistance to treatments. Because it grows very rapidly, prognosis is often less good for patients who have this type of thyroid cancer.

If you want to learn more about thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Endocrine Tumor and Bone Disease Program. You may schedule an appointment with us. We are located in the heart of the city of Santa Monica. We also serve Southern California’s Westside, South Bay, and San Fernando Valley areas, as well as patients from all over the country.


More Articles on Thyroid Cancer:
Thyroid Cancer Treatment: What the Future Holds
Our Endocrinologists Recommend: Managing Thyroid Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects