Introduction to Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer that is more common in women.
What is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer is a rare cancer that is more common in women. The Thyroid is a gland with two lobes separated by a midline called isthmus, found at the base of neck. The gland produces hormones that affect metabolic rate and calcium balance in the body.
The four main types of cancer include papillary thyroid cancer (most common), follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer (rarest). Except in medullary thyroid cancer, only one of the lobes is affected in thyroid cancer. Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are also known as differentiated thyroid cancer, so they are treated in the same way.
What are the causes for Thyroid Cancer?
In most cases, the cause of thyroid cancer is not known. There are, however, a few risk factors. One in five cases occurs in people who have had a non-cancerous thyroid condition such as an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre) or an inflamed thyroid gland (thyroiditis).
There is also a genetic link to thyroid cancer. You are more likely to develop thyroid cancer if one of your family members has a history of medullary thyroid cancer or multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndrome.
Obesity and radiation exposure also increase chances of thyroid cancer developing.
What are the symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer develops over a long period of time and the first common sign is usually a painless, small lump or swelling on the neck. As the cancer progresses, pain in the neck may be experienced and it is more difficult to speak in a normal voice. You may also find difficulty in swallowing and have a cough that does not get better.
It is important to note that only 1 in 20 thyroid lumps are caused by cancer.
How is Thyroid Cancer treated?
Treatment plans depend on the type and stage of the cancer. For differentiated (papillary and follicular) thyroid cancers, treatment involves a surgery to the remove thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) followed by radiotherapy using iodine to destroy the remaining cancer cells and prevent the cancer from coming back. After iodine treatment, replacement hormone tablets containing tyrosine (a hormone secreted by thyroid gland) are taken to compensate.
Medullary thyroid cancers spread faster, so nearby lymph nodes may need to be removed along with the thyroid gland. Iodine treatment is not as effective for this type of cancer.
In most cases, when anaplastic thyroid carcinoma is diagnosed, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body so there is no achievable cure. Chemotherapy, however, can help to slow progression and relieve symptoms.