Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the thyroid gland, which is shaped like a butterfly and is located in the front of the neck. This gland produces hormones that regulate various aspects of the body’s metabolism, such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.

There are several types of thyroid cancer:

1. Papillary thyroid cancer: This is the most common type and often affects people of a younger age group. It tends to grow slowly but may spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
2. Follicular thyroid cancer: This type also grows slowly and primarily affects people over 50. It is less likely to spread to lymph nodes, but might spread to other parts of the body, such as lungs or bones.
3. Medullary thyroid cancer: It’s less common and may be associated with other endocrine problems. It often runs in families.
4. Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This is a rare and rapidly progressing type of thyroid cancer.

The cause of thyroid cancer is not entirely understood, but certain risk factors have been identified, such as radiation exposure, family history of thyroid cancer, and certain inherited genetic syndromes. Common symptoms can include a lump in the neck, difficulty swallowing, swelling in the neck, changes in voice, and neck or throat pain. However, it’s worth noting that thyroid cancer is often diagnosed without symptoms, through routine imaging or check-up.

Thyroid cancer

Causes of Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, but certain changes in a person’s DNA can play a role. Here are some factors that could cause or increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer:

1. Genetic conditions: Some inherited genetic syndromes can increase the risk of thyroid cancer, such as familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A syndrome, and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B syndrome.

2. Gender and Age: Though it is unclear why, women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men. Furthermore, it can occur at any age, but the risk peaks earlier for women (who are most often in their 40s or 50s when diagnosed) than for men (who are usually in their 60s or 70s).

3. Exposure to high levels of radiation: Instances of exposure might include radiation treatments to the head and neck or fallout from sources such as nuclear power plant accidents.

4. Iodine deficiency: Some studies suggest that a lack of iodine in the diet can cause changes in the thyroid that raise the risk for thyroid cancer.

5. Current or previous thyroid condition: Certain benign (noncancerous) thyroid conditions can increase the risk of thyroid cancer. Inflamed thyroid, thyroid goiter, and certain types of benign thyroid nodules can potentially lead to thyroid cancer.

6. Family history: Having a family member with thyroid cancer increases the risk.

It’s pertinent to note that having one or even several of these risk factors does not guarantee that someone will develop thyroid cancer. Some individuals with one or more of these risk factors never develop the disease, while others with no apparent risk factors do. It’s a complex pathological process influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. It’s best to have regular medical checkups and discuss any possible symptoms or risk factors with your healthcare provider.

Risk Factors of Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer can occur due to a variety of risk factors, including:

1. Age and Gender: Thyroid cancer can affect people at any age, but the risk generally rises with age. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop the disease than men.

2. Radiation Exposure: Exposure to high levels of radiation, especially during childhood, increases the risk of thyroid cancer. This can include radiation treatments for medical conditions or exposure due to nuclear fallout or accidents.

3. Genetics and Family History: Certain genetic conditions, like familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC), multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A syndrome (MEN 2A), and MEN 2B can increase the risk of developing thyroid cancers. A family history of goiter (an enlarged thyroid) can also be an associated risk factor.

4. Iodine in the Diet: Both too much and too little iodine in the diet may be risk factors for certain types of thyroid cancer.

5. Obesity: Several studies have indicated that being overweight or obese may increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.

6. Certain Chronic Diseases: Conditions like Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that leads to inflammation of the thyroid, might increase the risk.

7. Ethnicity: For unexplained reasons, thyroid cancers occur more frequently in individuals of Asian descent.

Note that having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will get thyroid cancer. Many people have one or more risk factors but never develop the disease, while others with thyroid cancer may have had no known risk factors.

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer may not cause any symptoms at all in its early stages. However, as it develops, certain signs and symptoms may appear, including:

1. Swelling or lump in the neck, which is the most common sign. You might see it or feel it.
2. Pain in the neck and sometimes in the ears.
3. Difficulty swallowing or breathing. This occurs if the cancer is large and pressing on the oesophagus or windpipe.
4. Persistent cough not related to a cold.
5. Changes to the voice such as increased hoarseness.
6. Unexpected weight loss or weight gain.
7. Rapid and irregular heartbeat.
8. Frequent feeling of tiredness.
9. Anxiety and irritability.

It’s important to remember these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than thyroid cancer. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and they persist, you should see your doctor. Early detection significantly improves the prognosis for many types of cancer.

Diagnosis Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of your throat below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.

Thyroid cancer may not cause any symptoms at first, but as it grows, it can cause symptoms like a lump that can be felt through the skin on your neck, changes to your voice, difficulty swallowing, pain in your neck and throat, or swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

There are several types of thyroid cancer, such as papillary thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, and anaplastic thyroid cancer, each of which has different causes, symptoms, and treatments.

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, but certain factors may increase your risk. These include being a woman, exposure to high levels of radiation, and certain inherited genetic syndromes.

Thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed through a physical exam, blood tests, imaging tests, and a biopsy, where a sample of tissue is extracted from the thyroid and examined under a microscope. Treatment for thyroid cancer can involve surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, external radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or a combination of these.

Treatment of Thyroid cancer

The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type and stage of the disease, the patient’s overall health, age, and personal preferences. Here are the main treatments for thyroid cancer:

1. Surgery: Surgery is often used to treat thyroid cancer. This can involve:
Lobectomy: Removal of the lobe where the cancer is found.
Thyroidectomy: Partial or total removal of the thyroid. If a total thyroidectomy is done, then hormone therapy will be required for the rest of the individual’s life.
Lymph node removal: If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, these might be removed during surgery.

2. Radioactive Iodine Treatment: This therapy is often used after thyroidectomy to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue or to treat thyroid cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas.

3. Thyroid Hormone Therapy: After the thyroid is removed, the body can’t make the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which controls metabolism. Patients usually need to take this hormone for the rest of their lives to replace its function and suppress the production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which could promote the growth of any remaining cancer cells.

4. External Radiation Therapy: This treatment uses high-energy beams, similar to those used for x-rays, but stronger, to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. This is usually used for certain types of thyroid cancers that do not respond to radioactive iodine treatment.

5. Chemotherapy: This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, but it’s not commonly used in treating thyroid cancer. It’s usually reserved for advanced thyroid cancers that do not respond to other treatments.

Thyroid cancer

6. Targeted Drug Therapy: These newer types of treatments target specific abnormalities in cancer cells. These drugs can induce cancer cells to die or slow their growth.

Please note: Patients should always consult their healthcare provider or a specialist for the best course of action for their specific case. Thyroid cancer is typically highly treatable, especially when found early, but treatment plans can vary widely depending on individual circumstances.

Medications commonly used for Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is typically first treated with surgery, but several medications may also be used. Here are some of the common ones:

1. Thyroid Hormone Therapy: After the removal of a thyroid (Thyroidectomy), a patient is typically prescribed Levothyroxine to replace the hormones that the thyroid gland would normally produce. This will also help to suppress the pituitary hormone (TSH) that may stimulate any remaining cancer cells to grow.

2. Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Treatment: This treatment involves taking radioactive iodine orally. Since the thyroid cells absorb iodine naturally, they will also absorb the radioactive iodine, which will then kill the cancerous cells.

3. External Radiation Therapy: While not a medication, this therapy may be used as a treatment where high-energy beams, such as X-rays, are used on specific points on your body.

4. Chemotherapy: This is drug-based cancer treatment. Typically, this strategy is pursued when the cancer is spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). Drugs such as Doxorubicin can be used for thyroid cancer.

5. Targeted Therapy: These are newer cancer treatments that specifically target the changes in cells that cause cancer. They are usually used for more advanced stages of thyroid cancer. The drugs often used here include Lenvatinib (Lenvima) and Sorafenib (Nexavar).

6. Immunotherapy: These are drugs that work by helping your immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively. Examples are Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and Nivolumab (Opdivo). This use for thyroid cancer is under research.

Remember, these treatments will vary depending upon the type and stage of thyroid cancer, as well as the overall health of the patient. Always consult with a healthcare professional or oncologist before starting any medication regimen.

Prevention of Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer prevention largely involves leading a generally healthy lifestyle and minimizing exposure to radiation. Here are several steps you can take to reduce your risk:

1. Have a balanced diet: Highly nutritious diets rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains support overall health and a strong immune system, which may contribute to cancer risk reduction.

2. Avoid radiation exposure: Exposure to radiation, especially during childhood, increases the risk of getting thyroid cancer. Medical procedures such as radiation therapy for other kinds of cancer or nuclear medicine treatments can increase risks, so it is essential to discuss these therapies with your doctor carefully. If you live near a nuclear power plant, take measures to protect yourself during any emergencies to minimize exposure.

3. Regular check-ups: Regular medical screening helps detect any health abnormalities early. Frequently check your neck for lumps and seek medical attention if you find any.

4. Reduce iodine intake: Some researchers suggest that diets high in iodine could potentially increase the risk of certain types of thyroid cancer. However, more research is necessary in this area, and moderation is key within a balanced diet.

5. Genetic testing and counseling: If you have a family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer, genetic testing and counseling could help you understand your risk and explore preventative measures.

Please note that it’s virtually impossible to prevent all cases of thyroid cancer since some risk factors like age, gender, and genetic disposition cannot be controlled. However, implementing these steps can help reduce the overall risk.

FAQ’s about Thyroid cancer

1. What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of the neck. This gland controls the body’s metabolism and produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.

2. What are the types of thyroid cancer?
There are four primary types: Papillary thyroid cancer, which is the most common, Follicular thyroid cancer, Medullary thyroid cancer, and Anaplastic thyroid cancer which is the rarest and most aggressive form.

3. What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Often, there are no early warning signs of thyroid cancer, but as the disease advances symptoms such as a lump in the neck, difficulty swallowing, constant throat pain or tightness, hoarse voice, and cough can occur.

4. How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?
If thyroid cancer is suspected, doctors often employ a combination of physical examination, blood tests, imaging tests like ultrasound, and biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

5. What factors increase the risk of thyroid cancer?
Risk factors can include exposure to high levels of radiation, a diet low in iodine, genetic syndromes that increase cancer risk, being female, and age, as most cases are reported over 40 years.

6. How is thyroid cancer treated?
Treatments vary depending on the type and stage of the thyroid cancer, but it generally includes surgery, iodine therapy, external radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, or hormone therapy.

7. Can thyroid cancer be prevented?
There’s no sure prevention method for thyroid cancer, but some measures like avoiding exposure to radiation and maintaining a diet with sufficient iodine can lower the risk.

Please consult a healthcare professional or a doctor for specific advice related to symptoms, risk factors, tests, and treatments.

Useful links

Thyroid cancer begins in the cells of the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. Thyroid cancer might not cause any symptoms at first. But as it grows, it can cause pain and swelling in your neck.

There are several types of thyroid cancer, including papillary thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, and anaplastic thyroid cancer. The first two types are often curable. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is difficult to treat and cure.

Following are some useful links from journals related to Thyroid Cancer:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30717905/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29408820/

Remember, while these are reputable sources, it’s always best to discuss any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider. They are best suited to give advice on specific health conditions.

Complications of Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid — a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. It has four main types: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

Here are some complications that can arise with thyroid cancer:

1. Invasion into surrounding structures: Thyroid cancer may grow beyond the thyroid gland itself, invading structures such as the surrounding muscle, nerves affecting the voice box, blood vessels or the esophagus. This can lead to symptoms including hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath.

2. Metastasis: In more severe cases, the cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones or liver. This makes the condition much harder to treat.

3. Recurrence: Even after successful treatment, thyroid cancer can recur. This can occur many years after initial treatment, necessitating long-term surveillance and follow-ups.

4. Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism: If total thyroidectomy (removal of the thyroid gland) is done, the patient will develop hypothyroidism and will need lifelong replacement of thyroid hormone. Conversely, if the cancer resulted from an overactive thyroid, too much thyroid hormone could be produced, leading to hyperthyroidism.

5. Side effects of treatment: Radioactive iodine, which is frequently used in treatment, can lead to temporary or permanent dryness of the mouth and eyes, alteration of taste or smell, or a lowered ability of the body to produce tears or saliva. Surgery could lead to nerve damage and affect your ability to speak, breathe, or swallow.

6. Psychological distress: Being diagnosed with cancer can lead to significant emotional distress and anxiety. Managing these psychological effects is an important part of cancer care.

Remember that the prognosis for thyroid cancer is generally favorable, especially for younger individuals and for those with smaller cancers. It is important to have regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor for any signs of these complications.

Home remedies of Thyroid cancer

First, it’s essential to see a healthcare professional if you suspect you are dealing with thyroid cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment by professionals give the best chance of successful recovery. However, certain lifestyle changes, natural remedies, and complementary methods can be used alongside traditional medical treatment to support the body’s overall health and potentially ease symptoms or side effects of thyroid cancer treatment. They should not be considered as a complete replacement for professional care:

1. Diet: A healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help overall well-being and recovery. Include iodine-rich food if your doctor suggests so.

2. Exercise: Regular exercise can help decrease symptoms of fatigue often associated with cancer treatment.

3. Stress Management: Techniques like yoga, meditation, relaxation exercises, and deep-breathing techniques can help manage stress and improve mental health.

4. Proper Rest: Making sure you get plenty of sleep can help your body recover and strengthen your immune system.

5. Hydration: Stay hydrated, water is essential for all body functions, including fighting off illness.

6. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: High intake of alcohol and smoking are thought to increase the risk factor for several conditions, including thyroid cancer.

7. Support Groups: Connecting with others going through similar experiences can be very therapeutic. Sharing your experiences and feelings can greatly reduce the feeling of isolation and stress.

8. Herbs and Supplements: Certain herbs, such as turmeric and green tea, are said to have anti-cancer properties. However, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor before beginning any supplement regimen, as some supplements may interact with other treatment you are receiving.

It’s important to focus on overall health and wellness to help support your body through cancer treatment. However, complementary methods should NOT replace a complete medical treatment plan. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or changes in your care.

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Last Update: January 12, 2024