Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Types and Risk Factors

Thyroid cancer is caused by thyroid cells. The thyroid gland plays a role in the endocrine system. The endocrine system produces hormones which control the normal functions of the human body. The thyroid is a small butterfly gland situated at the bottom of the throat. It has both left and right lobes. The isthmus is the section of the thyroid gland in which the lobes connect. (1) (2)

The thyroid produces the thyroxin hormone that helps the body regulate:

  • heart rate
  • body temperature
  • metabolism
  • blood pressure
  • body weight

Thyroid cancer is the most commonly occurring type of endocrine cancer. Diagnosis is increasing in the U.S. This can be due to the fact that it is now easier to find the disease.

Many types of thyroid cancer are present. Some develop very slowly, while others may be very aggressive. The majority of cases of thyroid cancer may be treated.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer may cause no symptoms in the early stages. You will be unable to feel your thyroid gland if it is in good health. As thyroid cancer progresses, these symptoms can develop:

  • cough
  • hoarseness
  • pain in throat & neck.
  • lump in the throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • swollen lymph nodes in the throat.

Consult your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms.

Risk factors for thyroid cancer

Among the thyroid cancer risk factors are:

  • with a familial history of thyroid cancer.
  • being a woman
  • A previous history of breast cancer.
  • Previous exposure to radiation.

Age is an additional risk factor. Thyroid cancer is more likely to happen after the age of 40.

Types of thyroid cancer and incidence

Thyroine cancers are relatively rare. In the U.S., this is the 10th most common type of cancer. This is approximately one-tenth as common as breast cancer, and one-fifth as common as lung cancer.

Thyroid cancers are categorized by the development of cancer cells. Cancer cells which look like healthy cells are referred to as well-differentiated cells. Clearly differentiated cells develop at a slower pace than undifferentiated cells.

Types of thyroid cancer consist of:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer
  • Medullary thyroid cancer
  • Follicular thyroid cancer
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer
  • Thyroid lymphoma

Papillary thyroid cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer is a well-differentiated form of thyroid cancer. This is common type of cancer. It is most commonly found in females of childbearing age. Papillary thyroid cancer is not as dangerous as other types. It spreads more slowly, and it’s very easy to treat.

Medullary thyroid cancer

Medullary thyroid cancer is another type of well-differentiated form of thyroid cancer. Certain cases of medullary thyroid cancer of the thyroid include a genetic element. It may lead to cancer syndrome of the endocrine glands. Cases that do not have a genetic component would be ‘sporadic’.

Medullary thyroid cancer develops in non-thyroid cells situated in the thyroid gland. It has a different treatment than other forms of thyroid cancer.

Follicular thyroid cancer

Follicular thyroid cancer is the type of thyroid cancer that has the greatest potential to spread and reproduce. Cancer of Hurthle cells is a form of follicular cancer.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a more aggressive form of thyroid cancer. This is rare and challenging to treat.

Thyroid lymphoma

It’s one of those rare types of thyroid cancer. It starts in the immune cells that are in the thyroid gland.

Risk factors

The following factors may increase the chance of developing thyroid cancer:

  • Female sex. Thyroid cancer is more common in females compared to males.
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation. Head and neck radiotherapy treatments increase the risk for thyroid cancer.
  • Certain inherited genetic syndromes. Among the genetic syndromes that increase the risk of thyroid cancer are family medullary thyroid cancer, Cowden’s syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia, and familial adenomatous polyposis.

Diagnosing thyroid cancer

Results from a physical examination or laboratory test may indicate that thyroid cancer is present. A neck exam can show a small or large mass in the thyroid. Lymph node enlargement may also occur.

Laboratory tests and procedures to diagnose thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Thyroid scan
  • Thyroid biopsy
  • thyroid function tests
  • Thyroglobulin test that is used in papillary and follicular cancers.
  • an ultrasound of the thyroid
  • calcium levels in your bloodstream.
  • phosphorous levels in the bloodstream.
  • calcitonin levels in your bloodstream.
  • laryngoscopy

Treatment of thyroid cancer

Treatment is dependent on the type of cancer you have and whether it is metastasized or spread.

  • Surgery
  • Thyroid hormone therapy

Most people are surgically removed from their thyroid gland in whole or in part. This stops your body from producing regular thyroid hormones. Oral supplements may be used in place of thyroid hormones.

Other treatments are as follows:

  • chemotherapy
  • radioactive iodine
  • external beam radiation therapy

Radioactive iodin treatment Side effects include the following:

  • Mouth pain
  • Eye inflammation
  • Dry mouth
  • Altered sense of taste or smell
  • Fatigue

What is the long-term outlook for people with thyroid cancer?

Individuals diagnosed with early thyroid cancer usually respond well to treatment and enter remission. Certain types of thyroid cancer have a higher relapse rate than others.

Be sure to go to regular follow-up appointments after your remission. Physicians will have to examine you for the rest of your life to detect signs of recurrent cancer. Your physician will also want to check regularly to make sure the amount of replacement thyroid hormones you are taking is correct.

How is thyroid cancer prevented?

The cause for thyroid cancer is generally not determined. This means that for most people, there is no known way of stopping it.

It is common knowledge that medullary cancer of the thyroid gland is inherited. Discuss with your physician whether your family has a history of such thyroid cancer. Your physician may refer you to a genetics consultant who may determine your likelihood of developing thyroid cancer.

Those living near nuclear power stations are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than others. Talk to your health care provider about potassium iodine tablets if you live close to a nuclear generating station.

Stay up to date on your annual check-ups and let your doctor know if you are experiencing any new symptoms. This will make it more likely that your physician will find severe health complications in the early stages. (1)

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