What is thyroid cancer?
The thyroid gland (or butterfly gland) is located at the base of your neck. Its purpose is to control metabolism and release various hormones throughout the body. These hormones affect how your body produces heat and consumes energy.
Thyroid cancer occurs when cells surrounding the thyroid begin to mutate. The abnormal (or malignant) cells then begin to multiply, creating a tumour on your thyroid gland. If this tumour is noticed early, thyroid cancer is one of the easiest cancers to treat. For this reason, it is important that you visit your doctor immediately if you notice a small lump on the front of your neck, or any of the symptoms listed below.
Lumps on your neck do not necessarily mean that you have thyroid cancer. If your doctor notices a lump on your neck, an ultrasound and/ or a biopsy will usually be performed to check for signs of cancer. Blood tests may also be performed to check for other forms of thyroid disease.
Causes of thyroid cancer:
Inherited genetic traits:
Thyroid cancer can be the result of an abnormal gene that you have inherited. This means that if your family or blood-related relatives have experienced thyroid cancer, you may be more at risk. A family history of goiter (enlarged thyroid) can also increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
Low iodine levels:
Iodine is the mineral that helps your thyroid gland produce important hormones. If you have an iodine deficiency, you may be more at risk of thyroid cancer. An iodine deficiency can be avoided by eating iodine-rich foods such as:
- Iodised salt
- Seafood such as shrimp, cod and tuna
If your head or neck was exposed to high levels of radiation, your risk of thyroid cancer may be increased. Radiation exposure can take a long time to create cancer. For example, exposure to radiation as a child can cause thyroid cancer later on in left.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer:
There are several common symptoms associated with thyroid cancer. As mentioned above, it is best to get your symptoms looked at by a professional as soon as possible. This will allow your condition to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Below are some of the most common symptoms of thyroid cancer:
Lumps in the thoat or neck:
The most common symptoms of thyroid cancer is a small lump which develops at the base of your neck. This lump will become bigger over time and lead to more issues.
Pain in the throat or neck:
You may notice pain in the lower front of your neck. This can be caused by malignant cells that develop into a tumour. These cells will then begin to apply pressure to the rest of your neck, creating discomfort as well as other issues.
Thyroid cancer can also cause you to experience a cough that won’t go away. This cough won’t be associated with a cold and will often persist until treatment begins.
Difficulty speaking, swallowing or breathing:
As thyroid a tumour develops, it can press against the inside of your neck. This can cause you to have difficulty breathing. This can be accompanied by a hoarse voice, as well as a reduced ability to swallow.
Types of thyroid cancer:
Papillary thyroid cancer:
This is the most common form of thyroid cancer. It forms in the follicular cells of the thyroid and grows in small finger-like shapes. Papillary thyroid cancer grows slowly, is more common in women than in men, and usually occurs before age 45.
Follicular thyroid cancer:
A rarer form of thyroid cancer that accounts for approximately 15% of cases. Follicular thyroid cancer forms in follicular cells in the thyroid. It is very treatable and is most common in women over 50 years old.
Medullary thyroid cancer:
This accounts for about 3% of thyroid cancers, making it very rare. Medullary thyroid cancer develops in C cells of the thyroid. The C cells make a hormone called calcitonin that helps maintain a healthy amount of calcium in your blood.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer:
Making up less than 2% of thyroid cancer cases, anaplastic thyroid cancer is the rarest and most aggressive form of thyroid cancer. It is known to quickly spread to other organs.
Thyroid cancer treatments:
There are several different available treatments for thyroid cancer. However, the ideal type of treatment may depend on a patients condition, stage/type of cancer, or preferences. Each treatment has a different set of side effects. For these reasons, it is important to thoroughly discuss and consider all options.
A surgeon can remove a tumour and surrounding tissue. This will prevent cancer from aggressively spreading. Common forms of thyroid cancer surgery include:
- Lobectomy – Removal of the thyroid gland’s cancerous lobe.
- Thyroidectomy – The removal of the entire thyroid gland.
- Subtotal thyroidectomy – Removal of all but a small part of the thyroid gland.
If cancer has spread to the neck, the surgeon may also perform a lymphadenectomy to remove the lymph nodes from the neck.
Following surgery, patients will usually have to take a hormone replacement. This is because without a fully functional thyroid gland, the body will not produce important hormones. This hormone replacement will often be in the form of a pill taken daily.
It is important to note that some tumours are inoperable. This happens when the surgery is too high of a risk or the tumour has spread too far. In this instance, other treatment options will be discussed.
Radioactive iodine therapy
Radioactive iodine therapy is when a dose of iodine is administered to the thyroid gland. This does have radioactive properties, which destroy cancer cells. The thyroid absorbs iodine as it enters the body. This form of treatment is especially effective for forms of thyroid cancer that have spread to other sites such as the neck.
Patients are often admitted to hospital for this treatment and are encouraged to drink lots of water so that the radioactive iodine passes quickly through their bodies.
Possible short-term side effects include nausea, vomiting or swelling of glands in your neck. Possible long-term side effects include infertility, especially in men.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. It is usually administered intravenously or via a pill or capsule. Chemotherapy is effective in destroying the remains of a tumour after surgery, preventing cancer from reoccurring. The effectiveness of chemotherapy depends on the severity and spread of cancer.
Side effects of chemotherapy vary depending on the dose you are receiving. However, chemotherapy can often lead to fatigue, nausea and vomiting, baldness and diarrhoea.
What support is available for rare forms of thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is can be difficult, painful and tiring to deal with. Rarer forms of thyroid cancer can be even more difficult, since sufferers feel like they have nobody they can relate to. However, it is important to remember that there is help available. Without a Ribbon is an Australian organisation that provides support for individuals who suffer from rare cancers. We provide a designated platform for Warriors to obtain information specific to their Rare Cancer. We also provide annual opportunities for our Warriors to meet and learn from each other.
If you suffer from thyroid cancer, we are happy to help you through your journey and make things easier for you throughout this difficult time.
Click the link below to sign up and become a Warrior today!
You can help us with your donation:
Without a Ribbon is a charity that works hard to aid those who suffer from rare cancers. You can help our cause in a variety of ways:
Donations – Without a Ribbon is grateful for every donation received. Giving to Without a Ribbon helps us to provide ongoing support, organise the annual gathering and subsidise the costs of our Warriors attending these conferences.
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