Thyroid Cancer Information

The Basics of the Normal Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland, made up of two halves called lobes. These lobes are located on both sides of the neck. The thyroid gland wraps around the front of the trachea (windpipe) just below the Adam’s apple (Figure 1). The thyroid gland produces hormones which essentially regulate the rate of every organ in the body. It can be thought of as the "gas pedal" of the body. Changes in the levels of hormones can affect body metabolism and other functions important to maintaining good health. The endocrinologists at Houston Thyroid and Endocrine, located in Texas medical center, will review the structure of the thyroid gland with you in detail.

The thyroid is made up of two types of cells called follicular and parafollicular cells. The follicular cells produce the thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) that affects a person’s heart rate, body temperature and energy level. Parafollicular cells make a hormone called calcitonin that has a minor role in helping the body maintain a normal level of calcium in the blood. Under normal circumstances the thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland which is the master hormone gland in the body. The pituitary gland controls the thyroid gland by secreting a hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH regulates the amount of thyroid hormone produced by the thyroid gland and as a by-product, releases a protein called thyroglobulin into the bloodstream.

normal thyroid

Figure 1: The Normal Thyroid Gland

Note that the thyroid gland is in close proximity to many other important organs

Thyroid Cancer Overview

Most thyroid cancers begin as nodules which are lumps that form within a normal thyroid gland or within a goiter. These nodules can be benign or malignant (cancerous). Goiter is a latin word that describes a globally enlarged thyroid and can be associated with hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and nodules. Most thyroid nodules are benign, and those that are malignant usually grow slowly. Thyroid cancer is rare – only 1 percent of all cancers are thyroid cancer. Early detection, accurate diagnosis, correct initial treatment, and regular checkups by an endocrinologist will help ensure a healthier future. If patient has recently been diagnosed, then it is important to realize there are a number of steps in the overall thyroid cancer treatment.