Thyroid Cancer, Adrenal Cancer, Neuroendocrine Tumors and Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia

Several cancers, cancer-related syndromes and hyperparathyroidism are treated within the Endocrine Cancer Program:

  • Thyroid cancer. Approximately 38,000 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the United States every year. Although there are some aggressive forms of this disease, most thyroid cancers develop slowly. The outlook is generally excellent, with approximately 98 percent of patients surviving at least 20 years after diagnosis. Thyroid cancer usually first appears as a nodule in the neck, but many cases are detected by CT scans or other imaging studies performed for other health issues.
  • Adrenal cancer. The adrenal glands are small structures located on the top of each kidney. Adrenal tumors are very rare. They involve cancers that orginate in the adrenal gland or cancers that have spread to the adrenal glands from other parts of the body.
  • Neuroendocrine tumors. Neuroendocrine tumors are relatively rare malignancies that originate from hormone-producing cells in the pancreas and other organs.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN). MEN syndromes are rare complexes of endocrine disorders that are often associated with several endocrine tumors/cancers.
  • Hyperparathyroidism. Primary hyperparathyroidism is the result of an abnormality of the parathyroid gland that disrupts the normal balance of calcium by producing too much parathyroid hormone (PTH).

The Thyroid Gland

Thyroid Illustration

The thyroid gland is located in the lower front of the neck, below the voice box (larynx) located in the upper part of the neck, and above the collarbones. The thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolism and can affect the heart, body temperature, digestion, and growth.

Thyroid Nodules

Nodules of the thyroid gland are extremely common. Many patients with thyroid nodules have no symptoms, and nodules are discovered by their physician during a routine office visit or by imaging studies (ultrasound, CT scan, MRI) performed for other health reasons. The majority of thyroid nodules are benign; this can sometimes be determined by performing a biopsy, called a fine needle aspiration, of the tissue within the nodule. This test is not always able to determine if the nodule is benign; in these cases, surgery may be recommended for a definitive diagnosis.

An enlarged thyroid gland is called a goiter. Thyroid nodules are often present in enlarged thyroid glands, a condition referred to as a multinodular goiter. Goiters can sometimes cause pressure on other structures within the neck, including the esophagus and trachea. When severe, this can cause difficulty with swallowing and breathing. For some patients, the presence of a goiter can also be less desirable for cosmetic reasons. For all of the above reasons, surgery can be recommended.

Thyroid Cancer

While the majority of thyroid nodules are benign, more than 38,000 cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic. The most common type is papillary cancer; it accounts for about 80 percent of all thyroid cancers. The overall prognosis is excellent, especially when diagnosed early and treated by a physician who is familiar with its management. Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin has a dedicated team of healthcare professionals with special training and expertise in endocrine surgery.

Learn About Treatment for Thyroid Cancer

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