The thyroid gland, found in the throat below the Adam’s apple, is made up of two lobes. It is situated on either side of the windpipe joined at the front by an isthmus. This gland secretes hormones that regulate metabolic processes such a growth and energy levels.
There are several major conditions that can affect the thyroid gland: hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, and cancer to name a few.
Today I want to focus on the common type of cancer affecting the thyroid gland. There are four types of cancer that attacks this gland:
- Papillary carcinoma is the most common accounting for 70- 80 percent of thyroid cancer cases diagnosed. A slow growing cancer, it affects the cells producing the thyroid hormone
- Follicular carcinoma accounts for about 10 percent of the cases. Like the papillary type it affects the cells producing thyroid hormone but it grows quickly.
- Medullary carcinoma accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of cases. This type of cancer does not affect the hormone producing cells. It tends to be hereditary and mimics the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome. If there has been a blood relative diagnosed with this type of carcinoma in your family you can be genetically tested.
- Anaplastic carcinoma the rarest yet the most aggressive and malignant type accounts for about 7 percent of cases of thyroid cancer. Often it grows very quickly and will usually block the windpipe causing the patient to require a tracheostomy This form is most likely to spread to other organs beyond the thyroid and the lymph nodes.
With Papillary carcinoma being the most common type of cancer affecting the thyroid gland let’s have a look at the symptoms.
- swelling in the throat and neck area
- a lump or lumps may be obvious
- swollen lymph nodes with no other cause such as a cold or flu
- changes in your voice
- hoarseness of the voice
- sore neck
- persistent cough
- difficulty swallowing
There are several methods that can be used to diagnosis this disease of the thyroid gland. The cancer may be found during a physical examination, through abnormal blood results, ultra sound and fine needle aspirations, and by a tissue biopsy of the thyroid or nodule.
When it comes to the treatment of thyroid cancer there are factors that are considered. They are the type, size and stage of the cancer, the age and health of the patient. The treatment options are:
- Surgery: the gland is removed either totally or in part depending on the size of the carcinoma and how much of the gland is affected. This procedure is used in the treatment of papillary, follicular, and medullary carcinoma. It is normal to remove nearby lymph nodes, especially if they look suspicious, and they are sent for biopsy to check if the cancer has spread.
- Radioactive Iodine Treatment: this procedure is used to destroy any remaining any thyroid cells that may produce hormones. This method requires the patient to follow a protocol for several weeks prior. They have to stop the thyroid hormone replacement medication which causes the thyroid hormone stimulating hormone levels to rise. In turn, this causes stimulation of remaining thyroid cells to absorb the radioactive iodine.
- Thyroid Hormone Replacement: this is used following surgery to replace the natural hormones. The patients are usually prescribed a dosage to suppress the production of the thyroid stimulating hormone, thereby suppressing the growth of thyroid cells.
Women are more susceptible to thyroid cancer than men. It can affect any age. If a child is diagnosed and the cancer was in an early stage the prognosis is excellent, usually a full recovery. For adults the prognosis once again depends on several factors including age, type of thyroid carcinoma, location of the carcinoma, stage of the carcinoma and the general health of the person.