What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is an abnormal growth of the cells of the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland located in front of your neck just below the voice box (larynx). The thyroid gland secretes hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism. Thyroid cancer is more common in women than men. People who are exposed to high levels of radiation to the neck and have a family history of thyroid cancer and goitre (enlargement of thyroid gland) are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.
What are the types of thyroid cancer?
There are four types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary thyroid cancer – It is the most common type of thyroid cancer and usually spreads slowly. This can be cured especially if early diagnosis is made.
- Follicular thyroid cancer – Cancer that develops in the follicular cells and usually spreads slowly. Like papillary thyroid cancer, it can be cured with early diagnosis.
- Medullary thyroid cancer – Cancer that arises from C cells of the thyroid gland. It produces abnormally high amounts of the hormone, calcitonin. It tends to grow slowly and can be treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer – Aggressive thyroid cancer that grows and spreads quickly to other parts of the body. It is the least common type but the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer.
What are the signs & symptoms of thyroid cancer?
As the cancer develops, you may notice a lump or swelling in front of your neck, pain in the neck or throat, difficulty in swallowing or breathing, cough, and changes or hoarseness in your voice.
How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will recommend a treatment plan based on the results of diagnostic tests such as blood tests, ultrasound of the thyroid gland, thyroid biopsy, thyroid scan and laryngoscopy.
- Ultrasound of the thyroid: It uses sound waves to create images of your body. This test uses a lubricating gel and a transducer rubbed over the neck to look at the size and texture of the thyroid gland. This test can tell whether a nodule is a fluid-filled cyst, or a mass of solid tissue.
- Blood tests: blood tests to check the levels of certain hormones and other thyroid cancer markers.
- Thyroid scan: A thyroid scan is a nuclear medicine test that allows your doctor to check how well the thyroid gland is functioning. It uses a radioactive tracer and a scanner to measure how much tracer the thyroid gland absorbs from the blood.
- Laryngoscopy: It is an examination of the larynx (voice box) performed by inserting a small camera through the nose and into the back of the throat.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: this is occasionally used to assess spread of cancer locally and to the adjacent lymph nodes.
What are the treatment options for thyroid cancer?
Depending upon the type of thyroid cancer present, your doctor may choose one or more of the following thyroid cancer treatment options:
- Surgery: Generally, surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. Total thyroidectomy is a surgical procedure to remove all the thyroid gland. Hemithyroidectomy is a surgery to remove part / half of the thyroid gland. Your doctor may also remove the lymph nodes if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
- Radioactive iodine: Radioactive iodine comes in a pill or liquid that you swallow. It has a small amount of radiation and can destroy thyroid tissue including thyroid cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: This method uses high beam radiation to destroy the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: It is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used in patients with cancer that cannot be treated with surgery or is unresponsive to radioactive iodine, as well as for patients with cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
What is the postoperative care after thyroid cancer surgery?
Follow up after treatment includes regular reviews by the treating doctor combined with blood tests and ultrasound of the neck.
What is the prognosis of thyroid cancer surgery?
If your thyroid cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, external-beam radiation, or chemotherapy.