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Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer, while serious, is often treatable with early diagnosis and proper care

Thyroid Cancer

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland, a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. The thyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Causes of thyroid cancer

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some factors that may increase the risk of thyroid cancer include:

  • Exposure to radiation, such as radiation therapy to the head or neck

  • Family history of thyroid cancer

  • Certain genetic conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2

  • Goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

The symptoms of thyroid cancer can vary depending on the type and stage of the cancer. The most common symptoms include:

  • A lump or mass in the neck

  • Swelling in the neck

  • Pain in the neck

  • Hoarseness

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Persistent cough

Risk factors for thyroid cancer

The risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

  • Exposure to radiation

  • Family history of thyroid cancer

  • Certain genetic conditions

  • Goiter

  • Age: Thyroid cancer is more common in people ages 45 to 75

  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men

  • Race: People of Asian descent are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than people of other races

Types of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is categorized into different types based on the characteristics of the cells present in the tumor. The classification is done by microscopic analysis of a cancerous tissue sample, and it is essential for determining the appropriate treatment and the patient's prognosis.

Within the types of thyroid cancer, we find:

  • Differentiated thyroid cancers: This category encompasses cancers originating in the follicular cells responsible for producing and storing thyroid hormones. These cancer cells often appear similar to healthy cells under a microscope.

  • Papillary thyroid cancer: It is the most common type of thyroid cancer and can occur at any age, although it is more common between the ages of 30 and 50. Most of these cancers are small in size and respond well to treatment, even when they have spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. Only in rare cases this type of cancer is more aggressive and can invade nearby structures or spread to other parts of the body.

  • Follicular thyroid cancer: This less common type generally affects people over the age of 50. Unlike papillary cancer, it does not usually spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, but it can spread to the lungs and bones.

  • Hurtle cell cancer: Previously considered a variant of follicular cancer, it is now classified as an independent type due to its behavior and response to different treatments. This cancer is aggressive and can invade structures in the neck and spread to other areas.

  • Poorly differentiated thyroid cancer: This rare type is more aggressive than other differentiated cancers and generally does not respond to conventional treatments.

  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: A rare and rapidly growing type, challenging to treat. Although treatment can slow its progression, this cancer is more common in people over the age of 60 and can cause severe symptoms, such as rapid swelling in the neck and difficulty breathing and swallowing.

  • Medullary thyroid cancer: Originates in the thyroid gland's C cells, which produce calcitonin. High levels of this hormone can indicate medullary thyroid cancer in an early stage. Some cases are hereditary, caused by mutations in the RET gene, and can increase the risk of other types of cancer.

  • Other rare types: These include thyroid lymphoma, which begins in the cells of the immune system of the thyroid gland, and sarcoma of the thyroid, originating in the cells of the connective tissue of the thyroid gland.

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

The diagnosis of thyroid cancer is based on a physical exam, medical history, and laboratory tests. The laboratory tests that can be performed include:

  • Thyroid function tests measure the amount of thyroid hormones in the blood.

  • Ultrasound imaging tests can help identify a lump or mass in the thyroid gland.

  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure in which a small piece of tissue is removed from the thyroid gland and examined under a microscope to determine if it is cancerous.

  • Physical exam: A physical exam can help the doctor identify any signs or symptoms of thyroid cancer, such as a lump in the neck or difficulty swallowing.

  • Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): These tests can provide more detailed images of the thyroid gland and surrounding structures.

  • Genetic testing: Genetic testing can help identify specific genetic mutations associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer.

An Endocrinologist can perform an initial evaluation. If cancer is suspected, the patient will be referred to an Oncologist for more specialized treatment.

Thyroid Cancer Prevention

There is no sure way to prevent thyroid cancer, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk, such as:

  • Limiting your radiation exposure: Radiation exposure from medical procedures, such as radiation therapy for head or neck cancer, can increase your risk of thyroid cancer.

  • Getting regular screenings: If you have a family history of thyroid cancer, talk to your doctor about regular screenings.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Common treatments include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is used to remove the thyroid gland and nearby lymph nodes.

  • Radiotherapy: Radiation therapy uses energy waves to kill cancer cells.

  • Radioactive iodine therapy: Radioactive iodine therapy uses radioactive iodine to kill cancer cells that have spread to other body parts.

  • Thyroid hormone replacement therapy: Thyroid hormone replacement therapy replaces the hormones the thyroid gland no longer produces.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice a lump or mass in your neck or if you have other symptoms of thyroid cancer, it is essential to see an Endocrinologist as soon as possible. The doctor can perform a physical exam, order the necessary tests to diagnose the cancer, and refer you to an Oncologist.

Thyroid cancer, while serious, is often treatable with early diagnosis and proper care. If you have concerns or symptoms related to thyroid cancer, schedule an appointment at BlueNetHospitals. The expert team in Endocrinology and Oncology is ready to answer your questions and establish the steps to follow in your care. Your health is our priority. Book your appointment today and take control of your well-being!



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