Overview of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is cancer that originates in the thyroid. The thyroid produces hormones that regulate weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. This organ is located in the base of the neck. You may not notice any symptoms in the beginning, as symptoms may not develop until later. The most common symptom is pain and swelling in the neck. There are multiple types of thyroid cancer and they each grow at different rates. Treatment for thyroid cancer is typically very successful. Thyroid cancer is becoming more and more common, but it may be due to advanced screenings.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
In the beginning, thyroid cancer typically does not have any symptoms or signs that cancer is present. Some of the most common symptoms include: changes to your voice, a lump in the throat, pain in the neck, swollen lymph nodes, or difficulty swallowing. You will want to schedule a time to see your physician if you have any symptoms that concern you.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
There is no real clear cause of thyroid cancer. Cancer begins when there are mutations found in the Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This mutation causes the cells to grow and multiple rapidly, and none of them die. So, then a tumor will form.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer can be categorized into various types based on the cells that are found in the tumor. The cancer is typically classified once your physician takes the sample of the tissue and looks under the microscope.
Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. This type of cancer forms in the follicular cells. These cells are responsible for producing and storing the thyroid hormones. This type of cancer can happen at any age, but typically between the ages of 30-50.
Follicular thyroid cancer is also found in the follicular cells of the thyroid. This is typically found in people over the age of 50 years old.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a very rare form of thyroid cancer that is found in the follicular cells. This type of cancer grows very rapidly and is very difficult to treat. This type of cancer is most common in people over the age of 60 years old.
Medullary thyroid cancer begins in the C cells. These C cells are responsible for hormone calcitonin. When these levels are elevated, that can mean that cancer is present. Genetic causes are the main cause of this.
Risk Factors of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is more common in women than men. This type of cancer is also more common in people that have been exposed to high levels of radiation. Lastly, people that have genetic syndromes are at a higher risk of thyroid cancer as well.
Complications with Thyroid Cancer
The largest complication with thyroid cancer is that it can return, even if the thyroid has been removed. If your thyroid has been removed, then the cancer may return in other areas of the body, such as lungs, bones, small thyroid pieces, or lymph nodes. Cancer that returns can always be treated and your physician may recommend preventative screenings.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer
The first step in diagnosing thyroid cancer is to go through a physical exam, where your physician will feel for physical changes in the thyroid. You may also want to discuss your risk factors and if you believe that you are at high risk for thyroid cancer. A blood test may also be done at this appointment to see if the thyroid is properly functioning.
Your physician may suggest further testing, such as an imaging test to be done. This will show your physician where the cancer is and if it has spread. This can be done through a computerized tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test.
An ultrasound test may be done to see inside the thyroid. During this ultrasound, the physician may remove a sample of the thyroid tissue. This tissue will then be sent off for testing to see if there is anything suspicious in the thyroid tissue.
Genetic testing may be done if it is believed that you have a family history or genetic reason to increase the risk of cancer.
Treatment of Thyroid Cancer
The treatment of thyroid cancer that is recommended for you will depend on the type and stage of the thyroid cancer you have as well as your overall health and preferences. Most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment. You will want to speak with your physician about what you are expecting and you both can decide on the proper treatment plan.
In the beginning, treatment may not be necessary because small thyroid cancers have a lower risk of spreading into other parts of the body and your physician may just want to closely monitor what is happening. Some cancers never grow and treatment may be unnecessary.
Most commonly, surgery is done to remove the thyroid cancer. This can be done by removing the whole thyroid, part of the thyroid, or the lymph nodes in the neck. Surgery has a risk of bleeding and infection. You may also be at risk for damaging the nerves that connect to the vocal cords.
Thyroid hormone therapy is a medication that can help to replace the missing hormones that the thyroid is no longer producing. Radioactive iodine is a treatment that comes in a liquid or capsule. This therapy helps to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue that were not removed during surgery. Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that kills all cancer cells. External radiation therapy is given externally to target the cancer cells. This is recommended if surgery is not an option.
Speak with your physician about what type of treatment that you would prefer and you can choose a route that works best for the both of you. There are many treatments that are possible and it is not one size fits all.
Prevention of Thyroid Cancer
Since there are no real causes of thyroid cancer, then there is no way to tell how to prevent it. If you believe that you are at high risk for thyroid cancer, then speak with your physician about preventative screenings.