Thyroid Cancer

Posted 4 years ago

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a part of our body that is located in our necks at the bottom just below our Adam’s apple. In most people, the thyroid cannot be seen or felt. Its job is to make hormones that help our bodies grow and function properly. These hormones help regulate our metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Many types of growths and tumors can happen in the thyroid. Most of these are benign (non-cancerous) but others are malignant (cancer), which means they can spread into nearby tissues and other parts of the body. In the United States, there were almost 53,000 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2020. This means that thyroid cancer is less common than other cancer types such as breast cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer. Most thyroid cancers are called papillary or follicular thyroid cancer. There is a rare type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid cancer, which we will discuss in more detail.

Medullary thyroid cancer is seen in about 4% of people with thyroid cancer. It develops in the part of our thyroid that controls calcium levels in our blood. That’s why people who have medullary thyroid cancer might have calcium levels that are not normal in their blood.

Most of the time, this type of thyroid cancer happens due to damage that builds up in our thyroid from our environment, our lifestyle, and the normal aging process. All these factors combine to make changes in our thyroid that can eventually lead to medullary thyroid cancer. This kind of cancer (also called sporadic cancer) is not inherited, meaning it does not run in families. But, for about 20 – 25% of people with medullary thyroid cancer, their cancer is caused by a different explanation. For these people, they have an inherited risk for medullary thyroid cancer because of changes in their genes. One gene that has been linked to an increased risk for medullary thyroid cancer is named RET. Changes in this RET gene can cause a syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2). Sometimes people with MEN2 get other types of tumors in other parts of their bodies.

For people who have MEN2, they may have extra or different kinds of screening that their doctors use to look for other tumors in their bodies. Because MEN2 can be passed through a family, genetic testing may also be recommended for family members so they can also get personalized medical care.

If you or a loved one has medullary thyroid cancer then genetic testing may be helpful to help figure out if you have MEN2. Make sure to talk to your doctor about if genetic testing is right for you.

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