According to Eric Genden, MD, chairman of the otolaryngology/head and neck surgery department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, those most prone to developing thyroid cancer are women between the ages of 25 and 50.
"Early detection is key to the management of this disease," he recently told the New York Daily News. "Other than having a family history, the most significant risk factors are prior exposure or treatment with radiotherapy to the neck or a history of thyroid nodules."
Since most thyroid cancer is asymptomatic, some patients go undiagnosed for months or years until symptoms develop, he added.
"As thyroid cancer grows, it can sometimes cause red flags like a lump in the neck, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing," he said. Fortunately, even advanced papillary thyroid cancer is associated with an excellent prognosis for the majority of patients, Dr. Genden added.
Surgery is usually the first step once the cancer diagnosis is confirmed. The minimally invasive procedure entails removal of the entire thyroid gland and, in most cases, the lymph nodes in the surrounding area.
Genomic testing may be the wave of the future for diagnosing thyroid cancer, according to Dr. Genden. At Mount Sinai, he and his colleagues are sequencing the genes of thyroid tumors to personalize therapy and develop new drugs.
"Five years ago, this process would take months to perform, but now we are able to sequence the genes of thyroid cancers, introduce them into a fruit fly model, and develop drugs for treatment in less than two weeks," he said.