Thyroid cancer

The thyroid gland is a part of the endocrine system. Thyroid cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in women, and it is one of the fast-growing cancer diagnoses. In India, the number of new thyroid cancer cases is 14 per one lakh men and women, and the death rate is 0.5 every year.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the base of your throat, just below Adam’s apple. Its role is to produce hormones that regulate the normal functions of the body such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.

Signs and symptoms

You will not show any signs and symptoms in the early stages of thyroid cancer. The following thyroid cancer symptoms are seen as the cancer progresses.

  • A lump that can be felt on your neck
  • Cough and hoarseness
  • Pain in the throat and neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Causes

The exact cause is not clear. Cancer occurs when the cells of the organ undergo genetic changes or mutation allowing the cell to multiply and grow rapidly. Thus the cells lose the ability to die and become abnormal, forming a tumor. These abnormal cells can also invade the nearby tissue and spread to the body.

Risk factors

Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a thyroid condition associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer. This disease also causes hypothyroidism. The other risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Sex-occurs more often in women than men
  • Exposure to high radiation levels such as nuclear power accident
  • Family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer
  • History of radiotherapy for head, neck or chest, especially during childhood
  • Inherited conditions

Prevention

Early diagnosis, especially when you are diagnosed with the presence of an inherited gene that increases the risk of cancer, you can go for thyroid surgery to prevent cancer.

If you are working in a nuclear power plant, make a habit of taking potassium iodine tablets to reduce the risk of thyroid cancer.

The presence of thyroid nodules is common, but less than 1 in 10 contain thyroid cancer. Your doctor will check for physical changes in your thyroid region and asks about the risk factors, medical history, and family history.Your doctor would ask you to go for the following tests:

Blood tests - to determine if thyroid gland is functioning normally.
Biopsy - to determine the cancer type, the sample is taken from the thyroid tissue and send for laboratory testing.
Imaging tests (MRI and CT scan) - to check whether cancer has spread to other parts.
Genetic testing  - to look for the genes that increase your cancer risk.

The thyroid cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. Surgery is preferred in most of the conditions.

Thyroidectomy- the doctor removes the entire thyroid, or leaves small rims of thyroid tissue around parathyroid glands to reduce the risk of parathyroid damage. In some cases, only one side or lobe of the thyroid is removed, called as thyroid lobectomy.

Lymph node removal  - the doctor may also remove the larger lymph nodes from your neck to test for cancer cells.

After the surgery, you may experience complications like bleeding and infection. In some cases, the thyroid can even come back usually in the first five years of surgery. This can be treated with medications.

Other treatment options include:

  • Radiotherapy
  • Radioactive iodine
  • Chemotherapy
  • Injecting alcohol into the cancer
  • Targeted drug therapy: cabozantinib, sorafenib, vandetanib

The bitter truth is that you should find your way to cope with cancer and be happy. Try to find what works best for you. Consider these tips:

  • Gain knowledge about your condition to make decisions about your care.
  • Speak to people who in the same situation as yours. This may help you find comfort and support.
  • You may not control the disease, but you can control your health. Keep your body healthy by adopting healthy habits such as eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, trying to get enough sleep and physical activity.

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