Cancer is the abnormal division of cells in the body. Thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck. It secretes hormones that help the body function normally.
Thyroid cancer is not as common as the other types of cancer. It can affect any age group, although it is a disease mostly affecting people above the age of 30. Women are more prone to develop thyroid cancer when compared to men. The ratio between women and men developing thyroid cancer is 3:1.
TYPES OF THYROID CANCER
There are 4 types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary thyroid cancer constitutes about 80% of the thyroid cancers. It is the most common cancer when compared to the other types. Papillary thyroid cancer arises from the normal tissues of the thyroid.
- Follicular cell thyroid cancer constitutes about 15% of the thyroid cancers. It is the second most common thyroid cancer when compared to the other types. It develops in older age group and it is less common in children.
- Medullary thyroid cancer constitutes about 3% of the thyroid cancers. Unlike the papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer arises from the parafollicular cells of the thyroid.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer constitutes about 1% of the thyroid cancers. It is the least common type of thyroid cancer. Though, anaplastic thyroid cancer constitute only 1% of the total thyroid cancer, it is most deadly of all the types. People diagnosed with this type of cancer do not live for more than a year. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is developed within a goitre or within a differentiated thyroid cancer. This cancer is more common in men when compared to the women. It affects the elderly people, above the age of 65 years and older.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Several signs and symptoms indicate the presence of cancer in the thyroid.
- A lump or swelling in the neck
- Pain experienced in the neck and near the ears
- Trouble swallowing
- Breathing problems
- Persistent wheezing
- Change in voice
- Frequent cough
The most common symptom observed in people to detect the presence of thyroid cancer is the inflammation or lump in the neck. Though, some people may not show any symptoms of thyroid cancer.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
Thyroid cancer, like many other cancers is caused due to the uncontrolled growth of cells. But, the exact cause of the cancer is not yet known. Though the exact cause is not known, certain things may increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
- Inflammation in the thyroid known as thyroiditis or inflammation in the goitre can be a cause for the formation of thyroid cancer.
- A family history of the cancer can increase the risk of developing thyroid disease. The person may have an inherited gene in the body that causes the cancer to develop in the thyroid.
- Exposure to radiation can increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
- Obesity is one of the main causes for a number of problems. It can also increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
- When the body produces too much growth hormone which is called acromegaly, can also increase the risk of thyroid cancer. Acromegaly is a rare condition.
The doctor examines the neck region to check for symptoms like hoarseness, inflammation of the gland etc. If the doctor observes any changes that may seem abnormal then, he may recommend the following tests to confirm the presence of cancer in the thyroid.
- Blood test is performed to check the levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. Abnormal levels in the hormones could detect the presence of an overactive or an underactive thyroid. Further test such as an ultrasound scan is required to check the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
- Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to produce pictures of the organs and structures inside the body. It is a safe, painless and a non-invasive procedure and is used to examine various other parts such as brain, hips, uterus, to check for the health of the baby.
An ultrasound scan is performed to check the presence of a lump in the thyroid which could be cancerous. If a lump is observed, a biopsy should be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
- Biopsy is another method performed to confirm the test results. It is a sample of the tissue taken from the body to examine it more closely. A doctor usually recommends for biopsy when a part of the body tissue seems abnormal. The abnormality in a particular area may be noticed in the imaging techniques or during a physical examination.
- Imaging techniques include CT scan and MRI.
The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of thyroid cancer. The main treatments include
- Thyroidectomy is a surgery to remove a part or the entire thyroid gland. This test is performed under general anaesthesia.
- Radioactive iodine treatment is usually performed after a surgery. It helps in the removal of leftover cancerous cells in the body and also reduces the risk of developing thyroid cancer again. Radioactive iodine treatment involves swallowing of the substance which travels in the blood to kill the cancer cells.
- External radiotherapy is a therapy which directs radiation to a particular region to kill the cancer cells. It prevents the recurrence of thyroid cancer.
- Chemotherapy is a medication used to kill the cancer causing cells. It is either given orally or intravenously. It is usually used after a surgery to remove the presence of any left-over cancerous cells in the body. Chemotherapy can also be given to treat the cancers that spread to various other parts of the body.
Follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and protect yourself from people suffering from thyroid cancer or are at a risk of developing the disease. Also be alert to the signs and symptom of the disease and immediately consult a doctor in case you notice or experience any of the symptoms.