Thyroid cancer in children is rare. Only one in 1000-2000 children less than 20 years of age are affected by thyroid cancer in the United States each year. Thyroid cancer is often cured. Survival rates among children diagnosed with thyroid cancer is nearly 95%. Both the incidence and the mortality rates increase with age.
There are four types of thyroid cancer:
Staging and Treatment of Thyroid Cancer
Tumors of the thyroid (a gland near the windpipe that produces thyroid hormone, which helps regulate growth and metabolism) are classified as adenomas or carcinomas. Adenomas are benign (noncancerous) growths that may cause enlargement of all or part of the gland, which extends to both sides of the neck and can be quite large. Some of these tumors may secrete hormones. Transformation to a malignant carcinoma (cancer) may occur in some cells, which then may grow and spread to lymph nodes in the neck or to the lungs. Most thyroid cancers occur in girls. This cancer usually appears as a lump or mass in the thyroid with possible swelling of the lymph glands in the neck.
Surgery is the treatment required for all thyroid tumors. This is usually removal of all or nearly all of the thyroid and nearby lymph nodes in the neck. Treatment with a radioactive form of iodine is given after surgery to destroy cancer cells and thyroid tissue that remain. After surgery and treatment with radioactive iodine, hormone replacement therapy must be given to compensate for the lost thyroid hormone. Regular checkups are required to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lungs. Patients with thyroid cancer generally have an excellent survival with relatively few side effects. Thyroid tumors that recur (come back) are usually treated with radioactive iodine. Even patients with tumor that has spread to the lungs may expect no decrease in life span after appropriate treatment. For patients with thyroid cancer that has spread or come back, targeted therapies that block signals needed for tumors to grow are being studied in clinical trials2.
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References for this page:
1Children’s Oncology Group (COG) at: http://www.curesearch.org/for_parents_and_families/newlydiagnosed/article.aspx?ArticleId=4222&StageID=1&TopicId=1&Level=1. (Accessed July 2016)
2Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Database: http://www.cancer.gov/types/childhood-cancers/patient/unusual-cancers-childhood-pdq. (Accessed July 2016)