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What is Thyroid Cancer?: Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

The thyroid gland or also called as just thyroid plays a crucial role in maintaining the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. It is responsible for secreting two main hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

  1. Thyroxine (T4) helps to control the rate at which the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls the sensitivity of cells to other hormones.
  2. Triiodothyronine (T3) increases the body’s metabolic rate, increasing the rate at which the body burns calories. This, in turn, leads to an increase in energy production, body temperature, and heart rate.

The growth of cells in the thyroid leads to the development of thyroid cancer. This can cause swelling in the gland, making it difficult to speak or eat. Irrespective of the type of thyroid cancer, the symptoms are visible at first but show up on its gradual course. 

To better understand the same, this article talks about the thyroid cancer symptoms, types, diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Most thyroid cancers do not show the signs and symptoms early in the disease, but as it grows within, the symptoms start to show up. The common symptoms of thyroid cancer are

  1. Lump or nodule that is felt in the neck
  2. Swelling in the neck accompanied by pain in the front that can go up to the ear
  3. Difficulty breathing and swallowing food
  4. Changes in a voice that do not go away
  5. Constant coughing that is not because of cold
  6. Swollen lymph nodes

While the cause of thyroid cancer is not clear, there are some explanations for the same.

  1. Goitre or low iodine intake.
  2. Familial history of thyroid cancer.
  3. Obesity or radiation therapy of the neck or throat during childhood.
  4. Thyroiditis or the inflammation of the thyroid gland.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

It has to be understood that there are four types of thyroid cancer based on the type of cells from which cancer grows. 

  1. Papillary Thyroid Cancer: This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for about 80% of all cases. It usually grows slowly and can often be treated successfully. Papillary thyroid cancer tends to develop in the thyroid’s lymph nodes. It’s usually found in people of younger age and is highly curable.
  2. Follicular Thyroid Cancer: This type of thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid’s follicular cells, which are responsible for producing and storing thyroid hormones. It accounts for about 10-15% of all thyroid cancer cases. It can be more aggressive than papillary thyroid cancer, and it tends to spread to the lymph nodes and the lungs.
  3. Medullary Thyroid Cancer: This type of thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid’s parafollicular cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. Medullary thyroid cancer is rare and accounts for about 3-5% of all thyroid cancer cases. It can be more aggressive than papillary and follicular thyroid cancer and is more likely to spread to other body parts. It is mostly caused due to genetic mutation.
  4. Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer: This is the rarest and most aggressive type of thyroid cancer. It accounts for about 1-2% of all thyroid cancer cases. It often develops in older people and grows quickly, making it more difficult to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer spreads to other body parts early on and is often found in advanced stages.

Thyroid cancer is typically staged based on the size and spread of the tumour and whether or not there are lymph nodes or distant metastases. Based on this, there are four stages of thyroid cancer.

Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer

The earlier thyroid cancer is diagnosed, the better the treatment and prevention. In case your doctor feels that you might have the same, they can do the following to diagnose cancer.

  1. Blood test: As the gland secretions go directly to the bloodstream, checking hormone levels helps to know the gland’s functioning.
  2. Biopsy: This can help to understand if the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes and determine the course of treatment.
  3. Radioiodine scan: in this, an iodine pill is swallowed, and after some time, radiation helps to understand if or not cancer has spread to other parts.
  4. Imaging Scan: CT and PET scans can also help detect cancer and its spread.

Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer treatment typically involves a combination of surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, and thyroid hormone replacement therapy. The thyroid hospital in Delhi treat depends on the type, stage, and aggressiveness of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and personal preferences .

  1. Surgery: The most common initial treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery to remove the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy) and nearby lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells. The extent of the surgery will depend on the stage and aggressiveness of cancer. A total thyroidectomy (removal of the entire thyroid gland) may be performed for small, well-differentiated tumours. A complete thyroidectomy (removal of any remaining thyroid tissue after a subtotal thyroidectomy) may be needed for larger or more aggressive tumours.
  2. Radioactive iodine therapy: After surgery, many patients with thyroid cancer will receive radioactive iodine therapy. This treatment uses a small amount of radioactive iodine to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the body. The patient will take a capsule or liquid containing radioactive iodine, which is then taken up by any remaining thyroid tissue or cancer cells. The radiation kills the cancer cells, but not normal cells.
  3. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy: After a total thyroidectomy, the patient will need lifelong thyroid hormone replacement therapy to replace the hormones the thyroid gland normally produces. This will typically involve taking a daily pill containing synthetic T4.
  4. External beam radiation therapy: In some cases, external beam radiation therapy may destroy cancer cells that remain after surgery or relieve symptoms such as pain or difficulty swallowing.
  5. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is not commonly used for most types of thyroid cancer, but it may be used for anaplastic thyroid cancer, the most aggressive and rarest type of thyroid cancer.
  6. Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It may be used for some patients with advanced or recurrent thyroid cancer.

Timely diagnosis can prevent thyroid cancer from turning fatal and ensure a healthy recovery as well.

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