Though rare, pediatric thyroid cancer affects a small number of children every year. Find out the different types and how they are treated.
Cancer of the thyroid, the small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones and regulates metabolism, is most common in women over 50, but a small number of kids and adolescents develop it each year.
Pediatric thyroid cancer is extremely rare, affecting just one child in a million under age 10 and rising to just about 15 children per million in teens ages 15 to 19. And, in most cases, the prognosis is very good.
The main types of pediatric thyroid cancers are:
- Differentiated thyroid cancer, including papillary and follicular thyroid cancers and their variations. As a group, differentiated thyroid cancers make up only 1 percent of all pediatric cancers in kids ages 5 to 9, and 7 percent in those 15 to 19. Papillary is by far the most common pediatric thyroid cancer and has the best prognosis, even though it has often spread to the nearby lymph nodes in the neck by the time it’s discovered. Follicular cancer is rarer and more aggressive.
- Medullary thyroid cancer, a very rare group, occurring in less than one child per million. There are two forms of this type of cancer: familial, which is inherited from a parent and accounts for about 30 percent of these cases, and sporadic, which usually affects those over age 20. Medullary thyroid cancers start in the cells of the thyroid responsible for producing calcitonin, a protein that regulates calcium levels, not with the cells involved in creating thyroid hormones.
Pediatric Thyroid Cancer: Causes and Risk Factors
There is no single known cause for thyroid cancer, but there is evidence that certain risk factors can increase the chances of developing it:
- Female sex hormones are involved in thyroid cancer, but scientists aren’t yet sure how. The risk is equal for boys and girls under age 10, but gradually increases for girls as they go through puberty. Adult women have triple the risk of developing thyroid cancer compared to adult men.
- Thyroid cancer in the family can be a risk factor, especially with medullary thyroid cancer. Risk for the familial type of medullary thyroid cancer is determined by a change in the RET gene. A blood test can determine whether other family members carry the gene variant.
- A family or personal history of other medical conditions like goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland) or colon growths may increase the risk for thyroid cancer.
- Radiation treatment for other cancers like lymphoma or preceding a bone marrow transplant might play a role in thyroid cancer.
- Radioactive fallout from nuclear testing or nuclear power plant accidents has been implicated in pediatric thyroid cancer. After the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, children from surrounding areas developed pediatric thyroid cancer at higher rates than before the accident.
Pediatric Thyroid Cancer: Treatment Options
As with adults, exact treatment will be tailored to the individual needs of the young patient. In general, surgery is necessary to remove all or part of the thyroid. Depending on the type of pediatric thyroid cancer and whether lymph nodes are involved, these may be removed as well.
For children with differentiated pediatric thyroid cancers, radioactive iodine is the next step after surgery. Radioactive iodine destroys the remaining thyroid tissue and cancer cells. Age, weight, and size of the tumor will determine how high a dose of radioactive iodine is necessary.
Regardless of what type of pediatric thyroid cancer a child has, the outlook is good. In fact, with treatment, kids tend to do even better than adults.
Source: http://everydayhealth.com May 14, 2009