Cancer Visual Guide To Thyroid Cancer

December 24, 2020

What is the thyroid gland?
It is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that makes the hormones that enter your bloodstream and then travel to every cell in your body. Thyroid hormones play an important role in helping your body work properly. They help keep you warm and give you energy. They also support your muscles as well as your heart, brain, and other organs.

What is thyroid cancer?
When you have cancer, the problematic cells grow out of control and crowd out healthy cells. There are four types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and regenerative. The severity of the disease-and the type of treatment you receive-depends in part on the type you have.

Nodules on the thyroid
Thyroid cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages. The first sign is often a small bump, or “nodule,” on your thyroid gland. It’s not something you may notice on your own. Your doctor usually feels it during a physical exam. He may find it on an x-ray or CT scan, often after you get one for another problem. About 90% of the time, these nodules are benign (non-cancerous) and require little to no treatment.

Other things to watch out for
As thyroid cancer progresses, you may notice symptoms like these.

A lump or swelling in the neck that is growing extremely fast
Pain in the front of the neck or up to the ears.
Persistent cough or hoarseness with no apparent cause.
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
These may indicate a number of different diseases besides thyroid cancer, so talk to your doctor about all your symptoms.

Diagnosis
Your doctor may begin with a physical exam, asking about your family medical history. He may place a small, thin camera in your throat to look for problems, a process called laryngoscopy. He may use an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound to take images of your thyroid gland. To make a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, your doctor will do a biopsy by removing some thyroid tissue and examining it for cancer cells.

Differentiated thyroid cancer
Most thyroid cancers are called “differentiated,” which means that the cancer cells tend to look a lot like normal cells. One differentiated type, papillary, usually grows in one of the two lobes of your thyroid gland. Although it sometimes spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck, treatment for this type of cancer is quite successful. Iodine deficiency can lead to another type, the follicular type, which usually does not spread to the lymph nodes.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC)
It starts in thyroid cells, which doctors call C cells. The cancer can spread to your lungs, liver, or lymph nodes, even before you notice it.” “Sporadic” MTC, which doesn’t run in families, is the most common type of MTC. “Familial” MTC, which your parents pass on to you through their genes, accounts for about 20 percent of cases. The familial type usually shows up in both lobes of your thyroid gland when you are a child or young adult.

Anaplastic
It is quite rare, accounting for about 2% of all thyroid cancers, and is most common in older women. It grows and rapidly spreads to the neck and other parts of the body. It is called “undifferentiated” because the cells don’t look like normal thyroid cells. It is very difficult to treat. In some cases, it appears to grow out of papillary or follicular carcinoma.

Treatment options
Surgery is the first line of defense against thyroid cancer. Your surgeon may remove some or all of the gland and surrounding lymph nodes, depending on the extent and type of cancer. Often, surgery is sufficient, but when the cancer is large or has spread to other parts of the body, your surgeon may recommend radiation therapy, chemotherapy, radioactive iodine, or treatments that target specific cancer cell types.

Causes of Cancer
Scientists don’t know exactly what causes thyroid cancer, but there are certain things that seem to make it more likely that people will get it, such as.

Radiation therapy to the head or neck as a child
Low iodine diet (not common in the US)
25 to 65 years old
Female
Asian
You had an enlarged thyroid before.
Family or personal history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
Genetic disorders such as FMTC, MEN2A, or MEN2B.

After treatment
Even if surgery and other treatments get rid of your thyroid cancer cells, you need to go back to your doctor to check to see if the cancer has returned. Attend all follow-up appointments and tell your medical team about any new or returning symptoms. This is important because thyroid cancer can grow back slowly, sometimes 10 or 20 years after your first treatment.