Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Signs, Types And Causes

If you feel a lump, painful or painless, in your front neck, swelling in neck, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, hoarseness in voice then these symptoms can be indicated towards the cancer of a butterfly shaped gland located in the neck called Thyroid gland. Symptoms of thyroid gland are not seen overnight, they develop slowly. Lumps in the neck are also seen in another condition of a thyroid disorder called goiter. So, it is advisable to visit your physician if you suffer from any of the mentioned Signs of Thyroid Cancer.

Thyroid gland is extremely essential for our body as it controls the BMR of our body. That is the Basal Metabolic Rate which determines the metabolism of our body and as we all know that metabolism is necessary for nutrient absorption. Thyroid gland secretes hormones which are very crucial for various body functions like maintaining body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, etc.

What Is Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that usually shows up as a nodule, lump or a mass in the neck where thyroid gland is located. As the name suggests the thyroid cells start proliferating or multiplying in an uncontrolled manner. Normally, we cannot see or feel thyroid gland. It has two lobes right and left which are joined by a narrow/small piece of gland called Isthmus. It has two types of cells in it Follicular cells and Parafollicular {c-cells} cells.

Follicular cells release thyroid hormones which regulates body metabolism. Lack of thyroid hormones is known as Hypothyroidism whereas excess of them is called Hyperthyroidism. Follicular cells use iodine from blood to make thyroid hormones and release of these hormones is controlled by TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) released by the Pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. Parafollicular cells or C-cells make calcitonin hormone which helps in calcium absorption in the body.

Signs Of Thyroid Cancer

The signs of thyroid cancer include –

  1. A lump in the neck, which can be painless or painful, sometimes this lump may grow rapidly.
  2. Swelling in the neck.
  3. Hoarseness or other changes in voice quality.
  4. A constant Cough irrespective of weather change.
  5. Difficulty in swallowing.
  6. Difficulty in breathing.

Signs that show metastasis of thyroid cancer include tiredness, loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, nausea, and vomiting.

Suggested Read: What are The Symptoms of Thyroid?

Causes Of Thyroid Cancer

Like any other cancer, there are some risk factors which can lead to the development of thyroid cancer which are as follows –

  1. Gender And Age: it is seen that thyroid cancer is almost three times more common in females than in males. The peak age of thyroid cancer is between 40-50 in women and 60-70 in men.
  2. Family History: if any of your first-degree relatives has thyroid cancer then you are more prone to getting thyroid cancer even if you do not have any hereditary conditions. Why this happens is still not explainable.
  3. Other Thyroid conditions like thyroiditis or lack of iodine in diet that lead to follicular thyroid cancer.
  4. Gene mutations: gene mutations are one of the fundamental causes of any cancer in our body. In thyroid cancer gene mutations that cause thyroid cancer are type 2A (MEN2A, Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia) or type 2B(MEN2B) syndrome.
  5. Hereditary Conditions: there are certain hereditary diseases which put people at risk of thyroid cancer like Cowden disease, Carney complex I, etc.
  6. Radiation: sources of radiation include medical treatments, nuclear weapons, nuclear power plant accidents (in wars), and imaging tests like X-rays and CT scans.
  7. Obesity: Obesity is a multidimensional disorder. Obesity or weight gain is also an indicator of thyroid dysfunctioning as in obesity BMI (Basal Metabolic Rate) is decreased which affects fat mobilization in the body. In thyroid cancer BMI increases which is an alarming sign.
  8. Miscellaneous: some of the other medical conditions can put you at risk of thyroid cancer like acromegaly (in which excessive Growth hormone is released in the body), familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), etc.

Suggested Read: What Is Cancer? Its Types And Causes

Types of Thyroid Cancer

There are 4 main types of thyroid cancer —

  1. Papillary carcinoma :
    They are the most common types of thyroid cancer. They grow slowly and tend to spread in the lymph nodes in the neck. The most common papillary carcinoma is the mixed papillary-follicular variant. Other subtypes are columnar, tall cell, insular, and diffuse sclerosing papillary carcinoma. They are more common in females above the age of 40.
  2. Follicular carcinoma :
    This type of carcinoma is more prevalent in areas where iodine is not sufficient in the diet. They have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body rather than the lymph nodes of the neck.
  3. Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) :
    It accounts for almost 4% of the thyroid cancers and is the cancer of C-cells of the thyroid gland. They are difficult to diagnose and treat. They are of two types — Sporadic MTC and Familial MTC
  4. Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma :
    It is a rare type of thyroid cancer also known as Undifferentiated carcinoma. It is called undifferentiated because the cancer cells do not look like thyroid cells. It is very hard to treat and it spreads quickly to the neck and other parts of the body. It usually affects people after the age of 60.

How Is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?

Well, there are many ways to find out if a person has thyroid cancer or not. It

❖ Proper check up by physician if any of the above mentioned signs or symptoms are present. If a physician suspects that there is a possibility of thyroid cancer then further tests and investigations are done.

❖ Medical history and physical examination plays a crucial role in detection of any sort of cancer.

❖ Imaging tests are performed when you want to know which part of the thyroid gland is affected and how far cancer cells have grown. The various imaging technique includes —
➢ Ultrasound
➢ Radioiodine Scan
➢ Chest X-ray
➢ CT Scan
➢ MRI Scan
➢ PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan
➢ Biopsy

Blood Tests — well blood tests are not that of great importance in diagnosing thyroid cancer cancer. But it helps in identifying that the thyroid is working properly or not. Thus help in monitoring thyroid cancer. It includes Blood levels of TSH, T3 , T4, Thyroglobulin, Calcitonin, Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), etc

Laryngoscopy – As we all know the thyroid gland is located in the neck on and near vocal cords. Therefore there are chances that it can affect the vocal cords too.

Treatment of thyroid cancer includes – Surgery (thyroidectomy or lobectomy), radiation therapy (radiation kills cancer cells), radioiodine therapy, chemotherapy (intravenous or oral), hormone therapy, and others.

Suggested Read: How Is Cancer Diagnosed?

Thyroid cancer is not a life threatening cancer. Most of the thyroid cancers are treatable and they are more common in females in their middle age. Life expectancy is high in thyroid cancer as they are curable after diagnosis with proper treatment like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and radioiodine therapy.

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Sonia Solanki

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Sonia Solanki

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