Thyroid Cancer is a growth of malignant (cancer cells) that happens in the thyroid glands. It is situated at the base of the throat near the trachea. It has a shape of a butterfly with right and left lobes.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that help in regulating body temperature, heart rate, and body weight.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are several types of thyroid cancer. Some grow slowly while some spread too quickly.
- Well-differentiated tumors – They can be treated and cured easily.
- Poorly differentiated and undifferentiated tumors – They are less common. It cannot be treated easily and has less chance of recovery.
- Medullary thyroid cancer – It develops in C-cells. It contains a hormone that helps to maintain a healthy level of calcium in the blood. It is usually passed through genes from parent to child.
Causes and Risk Factors
The majority of cases are linked to radiation exposure such as a diet low in iodine, and faulty genes. Other factors can also increase the risk of thyroid cancer including –
- Goiter (Enlarged thyroid glands)
- Family history of thyroid diseases
- Low iodine intake
- Changes in Gene mutations such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A).
- Exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons.
Signs and Symptoms
You may notice a lump or growth of thyroid nodules in the neck. However, not all thyroid nodules are cancerous. Only 3 out of 20 thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous (malignant).
Thyroid cancer often develops without any symptoms, and in many cases, it is detected during a routine physical exam or imaging test. However, some common symptoms associated with thyroid cancer can include –
- A lump or swelling in the neck – This is the most common symptom of thyroid cancer. It may be painless, but it can also be tender or painful to the touch.
- Hoarseness or voice changes -Thyroid cancer can cause the vocal cords to become paralyzed or weakened, leading to changes in the voice.
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing – A large thyroid tumor or cancerous nodules can make it difficult to swallow or breathe.
- Pain in the neck, throat, or ears – Thyroid cancer can cause pain in the neck, throat, or ears, especially when swallowing or turning the head.
- Swollen lymph nodes – Thyroid cancer can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to become enlarged or tender.
These symptoms can be caused by any other condition as well, so it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for an effective diagnosis of your symptoms.
If you have any of the above symptoms then your healthcare provider may order you to perform the below tests including –
- Blood Tests – These check hormone levels to determine the presence of cancer cells.
- Biopsy – It may determine if cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes. It can also be used in combination with ultrasound technology for guidance in biopsy procedures.
- Radioiodine scan – A safe pill containing radioiodine is provided by your healthcare provider to determine the presence of radioactive substances in thyroid glands. A special device will be used to measure the amount of radiation in glands.
- Imaging scans – Radioactive iodine scan, Computed Tomography (CT) scan, and Positron emission tomography (PET) scan can detect the spread and growth of cancer.
The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health. The main treatment options for thyroid cancer include –
1. Surgery: Surgery is usually the first-line treatment for thyroid cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous thyroid tissue in part of the thyroid gland (lobectomy) or all of the gland (thyroidectomy). As well as any nearby lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells to stop the spread of cancer.
2. Radioactive iodine therapy: This treatment involves taking a radioactive form of iodine, which is absorbed by any remaining thyroid cells. This radioactive iodine destroys any remaining thyroid tissue, including cancer cells. It is a safe procedure where the thyroid gland absorbs all of the radioiodine for minimal radiation exposure.
3. Radiation therapy: This treatment involves using high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells.
- External beam radiation therapy – It uses a beam of energy to destroy cancer cells on the target site.
- Internal beam radiation therapy – It is also known as brachytherapy. It involves placing radioactive seeds in or around the tumor.
4. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is typically not used to treat thyroid cancer. However, it may be used if cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is not responding to other treatments.
5. Targeted therapy: This treatment involves using drugs that specifically target the genetic mutations or proteins that are driving the growth of cancer cells.
After treatment, follow-up care is necessary to monitor for any signs of recurrence or spread of cancer. This may include regular blood tests, imaging tests, and physical exams.
The long-term outlook for thyroid cancer depends on various factors, such as the type and stage of cancer, the individual’s age, overall health, and the success of the treatment.
The prognosis for thyroid cancer is generally very good, with a high survival rate. Most cases of thyroid cancer are detected early, and the cancer is typically slow-growing, which means that it is easier to treat and has a higher chance of being cured. However, some types of thyroid cancer, such as anaplastic thyroid cancer, are more aggressive and have a lower survival rate.
Regular follow-up care after treatment is essential to monitor for any signs of recurrence or spread of cancer. This may include regular blood tests, imaging tests, and physical exams. With appropriate treatment and monitoring, many individuals with thyroid cancer are able to live longer, healthy lives.