Posted September 15, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 4 min read
Thyroid gland is shaped like a small butterfly, and is usually found inside the lower front of your neck. It’s a gland that controls your metabolism. It also releases hormones that direct many functions in your body, including how you use energy, how you produce heat, and how you consume oxygen. Thyroid cancer develops when cells change or mutate. The abnormal cells begin multiplying in your thyroid and, once there are enough of them, they form a tumor.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Papillary thyroid cancer
If you have thyroid cancer, you probably have this type. It’s found in up to 80% of all thyroid cancer cases. It tends to grow slowly, but often spreads to the lymph nodes in your neck. Even so, you have a good chance for a full recovery.
Follicular thyroid cancer makes up between 10% and 15% of all thyroid cancers in the United States. It can spread into your lymph nodes and is also more likely to spread into your blood vessels.
Medullary cancer is found in about 4% of all thyroid cancer cases. It’s more likely to be found at an early stage because it produces a hormone called calcitonin, which doctors keep an eye out for in blood test results.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer
Anaplastic thyroid cancer can be the most severe type, because it’s aggressive in spreading to other parts of the body. It’s rare, and it is the hardest to treat.
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
There is no clear reason why most people get thyroid cancer. There are certain things, though, that can raise your odds of getting it.
Inherited genetic syndromes - Some conditions, including cancer, come from the DNA you get from your parents. In 2 out of 10 cases of medullary thyroid cancer, for example, the cancer is a result of an abnormal gene you’ve inherited.
Iodine deficiency - If you don’t get much of this chemical element in your diet, you could be at more risk for certain types of thyroid cancer. This is rare in the United States because iodine is added to salt and other foods.
Radiation exposure - If your head or neck was exposed to radiation treatment as a child.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
In thyroid cancer, you probably didn’t notice any signs of it in the early stages. That’s because there are very few symptoms in the beginning.
But as it grows, you could notice any of the following problems:
Neck, throat pain
Lump in your neck
Vocal changes, hoarseness
Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer
A thyroid blood test checks hormone levels and gauges whether your thyroid is functioning properly.
During a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, your healthcare provider removes cells from your thyroid to test for cancer cells.
A sentinel node biopsy can determine if cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes.
Your provider may use ultrasound technology to guide these biopsy procedures.
This test can detect thyroid cancer and determine if cancer has spread.
You swallow a pill containing a safe amount of radioactive iodine (radioiodine).
Over a few hours, the thyroid gland absorbs the iodine.
Your healthcare provider uses a special device to measure the amount of radiation in the gland.
Areas with less radioactivity need more testing to confirm the presence of cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can detect thyroid cancer and cancer spread.
Treatment of Thyroid Cancer
Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer.
Depending on the tumor’s size and location, your surgeon may remove part of the thyroid gland (lobectomy) or all of the gland (thyroidectomy).
Your surgeon also removes any nearby lymph nodes where cancer cells have spread.
With radioiodine therapy, you swallow a pill or liquid containing a higher dose of radioactive iodine than what’s used in a diagnostic radioiodine scan.
The radioiodine shrinks and destroys the diseased thyroid gland along with cancer cells.
Don’t be alarmed this treatment is very safe.
Your thyroid gland absorbs almost all of the radioiodine.
The rest of your body has minimal radiation exposure.
Radiation kills cancer cells and stops them from growing.
External radiation therapy uses a machine to deliver strong beams of energy directly to the tumor site.
Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) involves placing radioactive seeds in or around the tumor.
Intravenous or oral chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells and stops cancer growth.
Very few patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer will ever need chemotherapy.
This treatment blocks the release of hormones that can cause cancer to spread or come back.