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Thyroid Cancer

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The thyroid gland plays a major role in producing hormones that regulate metabolism of the body and cancer of this gland is known as thyroid cancer. It’s characterized by abnormal proliferations of cells of the thyroid gland which results in development of a lump or swelling the neck.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is uncommon and women are more susceptible. Apart from swelling in the neck, other symptoms of thyroid cancer include:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Trouble in swallowing
  • Pain in neck and throat
  • Swelling in lymph nodes of the neck
  • Change in voice, it becomes hoarse
  • Coughing

What Causes Thyroid Cancer

  • Mutation in the DNA of thyroid cells is the primary reason of the cancer. These mutated cells have the potential to multiply abnormally and invade other cells of the body.
  • Previous exposure to radiation can trigger thyroid cancer
  • Individuals who have family history of goitre or cancers like familial adenomatous polyposis, endocrine neoplasia, etc, are at high risk

When to see a doctor?

Fix an appointment with your doctor if you observe the aforementioned symptoms.

Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer

Your doctor will first initiate a physical exam, wherein he will feel the swelling of the glands with his hands. If he suspects presence of cancer then you will need to undergo the following tests for internal diagnosis of the thyroid gland and presence of cancerous cells:

  • Biopsy – a small sample of thyroid tissue is scrapped out or the entire gland is removed to check for cancer cells.
  • Blood test to measure the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels
  • Ultrasound of the neck to examine abnormal growth of cells or enlargement of the nodules
  • The thyroid gland may also be scanned with a radioactive substance

Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

As per the test reports your doctor will first determine 2 things:

  • The stage of the cancer- determined by the size of the nodule and the malignancy of the cells
  • The type of cancer- papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic

Thyroid cancer in most cases can be cured and the treatment depends on the above mentioned points. In general the treatment options are:

Surgery followed by Thyroid Hormone Therapy

This involves removing the entire thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) or removing the lymph nodes of the neck along with a part of the thyroid gland (lobectomy) or the complete gland. The doctor will then prescribe thyroid hormone pills that take over the function of the natural thyroid hormone.

Radioactive Iodine Therapy

This is done mostly after thyroidectomy to remove any traces of remaining cancerous cells. High doses of radioactive iodine is used.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

The patient undergoes several sittings of external radiation therapy or chemotherapy for destroying the cancerous cells

Complications and Side Effects

Chances of recurrence of thyroid cancer are there even after treatment. This usually happens when the cancer has already spread to other tissues of the body. However, it’s after decades that the cancer might reappear and most likely it affects the lymph nodes.

There are several side effects of the pills and therapies which include pain in body, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, anaemia, infections, build up of lymph in different tissues, etc.

Cancer treatment can also affect fertility and sex life of both men and women

Coping with Thyroid Cancer

After the primary treatment is complete, there will be several follow up tests within certain intervals as decided by your doctor.

It’s both mentally and physically challenging to deal with cancer. Keep close touch with your doctor and cultivate positive energy. Eat healthy and exercise to keep up with your fitness.

We suggest you to get yourself screened immediately if you observe the symptoms of thyroid cancer. An early treatment is the only cure for this. Take care!

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 17, 2015