Thyroid disease and cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland. It occurs when abnormal cells start to multiply out of control, spreading into surrounding healthy tissue and other parts of the body.
The thyroid produces hormones that regulate your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. When thyroid cancer develops, it can cause pain and swelling around the neck area.
There are several types of thyroid cancer that exist, with papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer being more commonly seen in patients around the world. There are also less common types that can occur, like medullary thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer, thyroid sarcoma and thyroid lymphoma.
In its early stages, there are typically few signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer. However, as the cancer progresses, common symptoms that may start to show include the following:
Research has not yet uncovered the exact cause of thyroid and other head and neck cancers. However, several risk factors can contribute to the development of thyroid cancer and some non-cancerous thyroid conditions.
During a visit to a thyroid disease clinic, doctors will first analyze your medical history. Next, they will conduct a physical examination of your thyroid and lymph nodes to check for signs of cancer like firm to hard lumps. The mobility of your vocal cords will also be assessed as impaired mobility may be a sign of cancer.
Should the doctor identify suspicious signs of thyroid cancer, a fine needle aspiration cytology can be done on the suspected thyroid cancer area. This is usually done in the clinic without anaesthesia and the discomfort is similar to drawing blood from your blood vessels. The cells from the biopsy will be sent to the lab for analysis.
Patients are also sent for an ultrasound scan of the thyroid and neck to look for suspicious features like fine calcification, increased vascularity, irregular margins and enlarged lymph nodes. If suspicious features are seen on ultrasound scan, an ultrasound guided biopsy may be performed.
Thyroid treatment for cancer may include various treatments at different times. The most common treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery to remove the affected part of the thyroid. Depending on the stage of the cancer diagnosed, doctors may recommend other treatments like radioactive iodine therapy. Less commonly, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted drug therapy may be necessary.
For papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer, doctors may recommend patients get surgery to remove the affected area. Afterwhich, patients can have radioactive iodine treatment to treat any thyroid cancer that might have been left behind. Targeted drug therapy may be considered should the radioactive iodine treatment lose its effectiveness or if the cancer has spread outside the thyroid gland.
For medullary thyroid cancer, surgery is still done to remove the affected thyroid. Radiation therapy is usually done after surgery to treat the cancer from spreading into other parts of the body.
For anaplastic thyroid cancer, a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy is done in order to treat the aggressive spread of cancer outside of the thyroid gland. Surgery is still an option, but it is often not possible with this very aggressive cancer.
All treatments have their risks. Certain side effects associated with thyroid cancer treatments can be temporary, while others may have lasting effects.
Surgery can cause problems with your vocal cords and make it difficult for you to eat and drink normally. Most patients will improve over time, but there are some whose effects stay permanent.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause patients to feel sick and tired, suffer from a loss of appetite, weight loss, and have an increased vulnerability to bleeding and infections.
At Amandela, we provide subspecialty care that you can trust and rely on throughout your recovery journey. Talk to our leading thyroid specialists to get expert advice and support for cancer treatments today.
Amandela ENT Head & Neck Center Mount Elizabeth Novena
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