Thyroid Cancer

Overview of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer rarely takes a deadly form. The most common types of thyroid cancer are papillary and follicular with a combined survival rate of almost 98 percent.

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland part of our endocrine system located just below the Adam’s apple in the neck. It has 2 side lobes, connected by an isthmus in the middle. A normal-sized thyroid cannot be felt by us. But a swollen thyroid gland can be easily felt.
Thyroid cancer occurs in cells of the thyroid. It may not cause any symptoms in the initial stage but progressive stages are painful with a swollen neck.
The thyroid is responsible for producing hormones that regulate blood pressure, body temperature, weight, and heart rate. Thyroid cancer can be very aggressive or even mild.

Prevalence of Thyroid Cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer makes up 80- 85 percent of most thyroid cancers. It has a 10-year survival rate of over 90 percent. Follicular thyroid cancer makes up 10- 15 percent of thyroid cancer with a survival rate of nearly 95 percent.

Doctors Treating Thyroid Cancer

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Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Following are the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer:

  • Lump or nodule in the thyroid
  • Voice changes
  • Hoarseness in the voice increases
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Neck pain and throat pain

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Following are the types of thyroid cancer depending on their appearance:

  • Papillary Thyroid Cancer

It is the most common type of thyroid cancer. It is mostly asymptomatic. This type of thyroid cancer can metastasize easily. This cancer is differentiated as a solid, irregular, or cystic mass in the neck. It affects people between ages 30 to 50.

  • Follicular Thyroid Cancer

It is most common in females with a 3:1 ratio. It arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It is also called Hurthle cell thyroid cancer. This type of cancer spreads easily into veins and arteries but not commonly in lymph nodes. The cure rate for this form of cancer decreases as a person ages. It affects people older than age 50.

  • Medullary Thyroid Cancer

It is a rare type of thyroid cancer. It begins in the C cells responsible for producing calcitonin. Almost 3 percent of all thyroid cancers are medullary. As it is asymptomatic, it is usually found by feeling a lump in the neck or throat. It usually doesn’t produce any noticeable discomfort.

  • Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

1 percent of all thyroid cancers are anaplastic thyroid cancer. It is the deadliest type of thyroid cancer with the lowest cure rate. Most persons do not survive even a year after the diagnosis. The affected age group is 60 and above.

Causes of Thyroid Cancer

The risk factors increasing the chance of thyroid cancer include:

  • Females
  • Radiation therapy
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Older than 40 years
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Risk Factors of Thyroid Cancer

The following factors can raise the possibility of a person developing thyroid cancer.

  • Age: Thyroid cancer can occur at any age. But about two-thirds of cases are found in people who fall in the age bracket of 20 and 55 years of age. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is mostly diagnosed after the age of 60.
  • Genetics: Some types of thyroid cancers are linked with genetics. If your family history has a history of thyroid-related issues then you are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.
  • Radiation Exposure: Exposure to moderate levels of radiation to the head and neck may increase the risk of papillary and follicular thyroid cancers.
  • Low Iodine Diet: Iodine is needed for the normal functioning of the thyroid. Take enough iodine by adding enough salt to your foods.

Thyroid Cancer Health Complications

Most thyroid cancers respond very well to the treatment and aren't life-threatening. After surgery or treatments, the body still needs thyroid hormones to function.

 

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Prevention

A lot of people develop thyroid cancer without any specific cause. Due to limited data, there is no concrete data as to how to completely eliminate the possibility of thyroid cancer. Still following two ways are effective in preventing thyroid cancer.

Preventive Surgery: Genetic tests can determine if you can carry an altered gene that increases the risk for medullary thyroid cancer. If you have faulty genes you may opt to have preventive (prophylactic) surgery to remove your thyroid gland before cancer develops.
Potassium Iodide: If you ever have been exposed to radiation during a nuclear disaster. Taking potassium iodide within 24 hours can reduce the risk of eventually getting thyroid cancer.

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Diagnosis

A diagnosis of thyroid cancer is done through:

 

  • A physical exam is done to look for changes in the thyroid and is checked with medical and family history.
  • TSH and other blood tests are performed
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasound is done to check the condition of the thyroid nodule.
  • A fine-needle aspiration biopsy is done where a sample from the thyroid nodule is taken and sent for testing.
  • Genetic testing may or may not be done.

 

Treatment of Thyroid Cancer | When to Consult a Doctor

For very initial stages or slow-progressing stages, individuals are put on watchful waiting. Cancer might never grow further, and no treatment might be required. 

Other treatment methods include:

  1. Surgery

Surgery is done to remove the lymph nodes affected by the cancer cells. The type of surgery to be done is recommended depending on the stage of cancer and its location.

  1. Radioactive Iodine Therapy

After thyroidectomy (surgery) radioactive iodine is used to possibly eliminate all the remaining cancerous thyroid tissue and normal thyroid tissue. This procedure is called radioactive iodine ablation. A high concentration of radioactive iodine causes the cells to die.

  1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is done for advanced cancer stages. New drugs are being introduced to treat thyroid cancer that can also slow down growth and possibly reverse cancer growth. 

If you suffer from any of the mentioned symptoms or have had previous thyroid problems, you need to carefully monitor your health. Get a check-up every few months from a qualified oncologist