The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located around the base of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. It is an endocrine gland that produces hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Once these hormones are secreted into the bloodstream, they stimulate the cells and tissues, thereby regulating a variety of bodily processes that are essential for the healthy functioning of the body.
Since the thyroid gland helps in regulating metabolism and other processes that aid in growth and development of the body, several health problems would develop if the thyroid gland is not producing these hormones properly. While hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism refer to conditions associated with a sluggish thyroid and an overactive thyroid gland respectively, thyroid cancer is characterized by the development of a malignant growth due to an abnormal and uncontrolled cell division in the thyroid gland. Thyroid cancer is mainly categorized into papillary, follicular, medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer. In this article, we will look into the causes, symptoms, prognosis and treatment of this rare form of thyroid cancer.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer
Anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid is one of the rare as well as aggressive forms of thyroid cancer. Though the exact cause of this fast growing cancer is not known, it is believed that DNA mutations may be associated with the development of this cancer. It commonly affects elderly people, mainly those who have crossed the age of 60 years. Exposure to radiation may also make one susceptible to this condition. People who have been diagnosed with any of the other forms of thyroid cancer, may be at an increased risk of developing anaplastic thyroid cancer. The development of a mass in the neck is one of the most common symptoms of this form of thyroid cancer. The patient may also experience difficulty in swallowing. The patient may cough up blood, and also experience symptoms such as excessive coughing, voice changes or heavy breathing. The enlargement of the thyroid gland is most likely to occur. At times, the tumor may grow towards the windpipe, or even become attached to the other structure located within the region. This may cause severe breathing problems.
Prognosis and Treatment of Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer
As mentioned earlier, this is an aggressive form of cancer. The cancer cells are invasive in nature, and spread at a very rapid rate. These may metastasize to other parts such as the windpipe, lymph nodes, lungs or bone at a very fast rate. Anaplastic thyroid cancer prognosis is very poor. Studies indicate that five year survival rate is less than 10% and a majority of people diagnosed with this condition don't live for more than a year. This is a fatal disease, and if not attended to, the patients may get suffocated due to obstruction of the upper airway due to the cancerous growth. Most of the time, the cancerous growth is detected at an advanced stage, but if it has been detected at an early stage, the cancerous growth may be removed through surgery.
Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may also help in destroying the cancerous cells and help in making breathing easier. If the tumor spreads at a fast rate, and infiltrates the trachea, one may suffer from severe breathing problems. Under such circumstances, a surgical procedure called tracheotomy may be performed to provide relief. This procedure involves the insertion of a tube into the throat so as to facilitate breathing. Unlike other forms of thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer does not respond that well to radioactive iodine. Since the prognosis is quite dismal, research is being conducted so as to find effective treatment options. The family members of people who have been diagnosed with this form of thyroid cancer, must provide them love and support. Joining a support group may also help the patients cope with stress in a better way.
This was some information on the survival rate, prognosis and treatment of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Though the anaplastic thyroid cancer prognosis is quite dismal, medical experts and researchers are trying to find a cure. While the doctors follow a multimodal approach to alleviate the symptoms and control the spread of cancer, the family members of the patient must muster up strength, and provide love and support to the patient to help them cope better.