Thyroid cancer develops within the thyroid cells. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland situated just below Adam's apple at the bottom of the neck. The thyroid generates hormones that control the heart rhythm, body temperature, blood pressure, and body weight.
At first, thyroid cancer may not show any signs or symptoms. However, when it develops further, it can lead to swelling and neck pain. On the other hand, thyroid cancer comes in a variety of forms. While some develop slowly, others are quite aggressive. In most cases, it can usually be addressed with treatment.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
The endocrinologists use the kind of cells at which the thyroid cancer develops to classify it. The major types of thyroid cancer are:
- Papillary thyroid cancer
This accounts for up to 80 percent of all forms of thyroid cancers. It’s a kind of cancer that has a sluggish growth rate.
Papillary thyroid cancer frequently metastasizes to the lymph nodes around the neck. However, it is a disease that responds effectively to treatment. Besides, it is highly treatable and seldom deadly.
- Follicular thyroid cancer
This type of thyroid cancer adds up to 15 percent of all diagnoses of thyroid cancer. This malignancy has a higher proclivity for spreading towards the bones and other body organs, such as the lungs. Treatment for metastatic cancer (spreading cancer) can generally be more complex.
- Medullary thyroid cancer
This accounts for about 2 percent of all thyroid cancers. Nearly 25% of medullary thyroid cancer patients have a family background of the condition. A malfunctioning gene (genetic mutation) may be the cause of this.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer
This is the most challenging type of thyroid cancer to cure. It spreads fast into the nearby tissue, organs, and other sections of the body. Nearly 2 percent of thyroid cancer diagnoses are this unusual cancer form.
Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer in its early stages exhibits no symptoms. Therefore, if your thyroid gland is in a healthy condition, then you may not feel it. On the other hand, the following signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer may appear as it progresses:
- Development of a lump around the throat
- Throat and neck pain and discomfort
- Swallowing problems
- Swollen lymph nodes around the neck
However, depending on the patient and the form of cancer, they may have symptoms in a variety of ways. Medullary thyroid cancer, for instance, can result in different gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation and diarrhea.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
The causes of thyroid carcinoma are typically unknown. Nonetheless, a person's probability of getting the diseases might increase because of a combination of inherited conditions and other risk factors.
According to research, particular risk factors in specific areas generate more thyroid cancer cases for some people.
The following are some of the possible risk factors;
- Too high or too low iodine intake
- Eating a low-vegetable diet
- Ionizing radiation exposure
In other cases, the following risk factors can contribute to thyroid cancer;
- Age: Thyroid cancer is more common as people grow old, although it can also happen at a young age.
- Gender: Thyroid malignancies are usually more prevalent among women, according to some studies.
- Radiation: Medical radiation exposure, like that used in diagnostic tests and procedures, can elevate the chances of getting thyroid cancer.
Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis
A thyroid cancer diagnosis can include one or more of the following tests and procedures;
- Physical examination
The physician will look for physical changes around the thyroid, including thyroid nodules, by examining the neck. Also, he or she may inquire about your possible risk factors, like prior radiation exposure or a family history of the disease.
This is a type of imaging that uses sound waves to create images of internal body structures. It involves putting the ultrasound transducer on the lower neck to produce a picture of your thyroid. The look of the thyroid on ultrasound enables the doctor to identify if a thyroid nodule can be noncancerous or benign and the chance of becoming cancerous.
- Blood tests
The doctor can recommend blood testing to identify whether the thyroid gland is working properly.
- Obtaining a small sample of the thyroid tissue
A fine-needle aspiration biopsy is a procedure that involves inserting a long, tiny needle into the thyroid nodule via the skin. Ultrasound imaging is commonly utilized to help in guiding the needle into the nodule with precision. The doctor will then use the needle to extract samples of abnormal thyroid tissue. The sample is sent to the lab for examination of malignant cells.
- Additional imaging tests
The doctor can order one or even more imaging to assist in determining if cancer has progressed further from the thyroid. CT scan, MRI, and nuclear imaging tests using a radioactive iodine form are examples of these imaging tests.
Thyroid Cancer Treatment
Thyroid cancer treatment usually depends on the type of cancer and whether it has spread to the surrounding tissues and other body parts. The common treatment options can include one or a combination of the following;
Thyroid cancer is almost always treatable through a surgical procedure to remove the thyroid. Certain factors can influence the kind of surgery the doctor recommends. They include the type of cancer, the size, whether it has progressed beyond the thyroid, and ultrasound assessment results of the whole thyroid gland.
The doctor can thus recommend any of the following procedures for thyroid cancer cure;
A total thyroidectomy or near-total thyroidectomy are two options for removing the thyroid gland. Total thyroidectomy involves the removal of all thyroid tissue, while near-total thyroidectomy entails the elimination of most thyroid tissue.
The surgeon usually leaves small thyroid tissue rims on them to limit the possibility of injury to the parathyroid glands. Parathyroid glands help control the levels of calcium in the bloodstream.
- Thyroid lobectomy
The surgeon usually takes out half of the thyroid during a thyroid lobectomy. Patients who have a slow-developing thyroid tumor in one section of the thyroid without suspicious nodules around other parts may benefit from this surgery.
- Dissection of lymph nodes
The surgeon may remove the neighboring lymph nodes around the neck when extracting the thyroid in other cases. They can be examined for thyroid cancer indicators.
Large doses of a radioactive type of iodine are used in radioactive iodine treatment. Usually, after a thyroidectomy, radioactive iodine treatment is administered to eliminate any healthy thyroid tissue that remains. It also destroys microscopic patches of thyroid cancer that were not extracted during surgery. Thyroid cancers that return following treatment or metastasize to other body parts are treatable with radioactive iodine as well.
The radioactive iodine treatment is taken as a pill or a liquid. Because the radioactive iodine is largely absorbed by thyroid cells and cancerous cells, there is little danger of damage to other cells within the body.
Thyroid hormone therapy:
You might have to use the thyroid hormone drug levothyroxine, including Levoxyl and Synthroid, for the rest of your life if you have a thyroidectomy. This drug has two advantages, replacing the hormone that the thyroid would usually generate and preventing the pituitary gland from producing thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). High levels of TSH can potentially promote the growth of any residual cancerous cells.
Chemotherapy is typically a drug treatment that aims at killing cancer cells using chemicals. It is usually administered as a venous infusion. The chemicals spread throughout the body while destroying fast-growing cells (cancer cells).
Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat thyroid cancer. However, it is occasionally administered to patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer.
External radiation therapy:
External radiation therapy is delivered by a machine that directs high-energy beams (x-rays and protons) at specific areas of the body. This approach is known as external beam radiation therapy. You lie on a table as a machine rotates around you during treatment.
If surgery is not an alternative while cancer keeps growing following radioactive iodine treatment, you may need external beam radiation therapy. Also, if there is a chance your cancer will come back after surgery, radiation therapy may be advised.
Targeted drug therapy:
Targeted drug therapy is a type of treatment that focuses on particular abnormalities found in cancerous cells. It can kill cancer cells by inhibiting these aberrations. Thyroid cancer drug therapy targets the indicators that inform tumor cells to develop and divide. Its most commonly used to treat advanced thyroid cancer.
The thyroid gland regulates various activities and functions in the body, including body temperature and metabolism. It is, however, prone to thyroid cancer, where malignant cells grow out of control in the area and can even spread to the surrounding parts.
Luckily, the majority of thyroid cancers respond well to treatment. Your doctor will talk to you about the suitable treatment alternatives for your specific kind of thyroid cancer. You might, however, have to use synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of your life after treatment. These hormones help the body work properly.