United Arab Emirates: According to report released during the 12th Middle East Update in Otolaryngology Conference & Exhibition (ME-OTO) held in Dubai earlier this year, the past two decades has seen an almost three-fold increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer globally. Thyroid cancer is the second most common cancer seen among women in the UAE, accounting for approximately 10 per cent of all cancers among females. Regionally, thyroid cancer is also the fifth most common cancer in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
According to medical experts, the incidence of follicular thyroid cancer has risen and it is the more commonly reported type of thyroid cancer. This form of cancer is considered more aggressive than papillary thyroid cancer. There are two other types of cancer, namely medullary and anaplastic, which also affect the thyroid in addition to rare cases of cancer that affect the parathyroid gland.
“The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland, is located at the front of the neck near the base of the throat. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, which comprises a set of hormone-secreting glands that regulate body functions. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control the heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and metabolism,” said Prof. Dr. Iyad Hassan, Consultant – General and Endocrine Surgery / Head of General Surgery, Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi.
“Cancer cells can develop in any of the cells in the thyroid gland, determining how serious the cancer is. Thyroid cancer is generally first suspected by a lump or nodule found in the thyroid gland. These cells are closely examined (under a microscope) to confirm an accurate diagnosis of the condition. The nodule or mass is surgically removed and examined by a pathologist to establish the diagnosis. Blood tests or thyroid ultrasound may also be recommended if there is a family history of thyroid cancer,” added Prof. Dr. Hassan.
Some of the risk factors include gender; women are three times more likely to suffer from thyroid cancer compared to men, age; people over the age of 40 are more prone to the condition, a diet low in iodine and family history is some cases as well as exposure to radiation are other factors linked to thyroid cancer, explained Prof. Dr. Hassan.
According to Prof. Dr Hassan, surgery is the main treatment in most cases of thyroid cancer, with the exception of a few. “Surgery to remove the tumour, or in more severe cases, the entire thyroid are some of the choices. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, they can also be removed during the surgery. Patients who have their entire thyroid removed need to take daily thyroid hormone replacement pills.”
Additional treatment options include radioactive iodine therapy, which increases the survival rate of patients with papillary or follicular thyroid cancer that has spread to the neck or other body parts. External beam radiation therapy, on the other hand, uses high-energy rays delivered by a machine to destroy cancer cells or curb their growth. Some patients may also require chemotherapy or more specific/ targeted therapy to treat their cancer in conjunction with other methods.
Thyroid cancer has an overall good prognosis especially in a scenario that involves early detection and management of the disease. Getting the right qualified medical expert is also a good start. Factors such as increased awareness, advances in detection technologies, including ultrasound, PET-CT imaging and other modalities, and on-going research on thyroid cancer have also helped improve the survival rates of thyroid patients, said Prof. Dr. Hassan.