Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. It is necessary to know its symptoms as early detection of the cancer increases the life expectancy of the patient significantly. Read on to know the causes and symptoms of this cancer and how it is treated.
Anaplastic, follicular, medullary and papillary are the four main types of thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid carcinoma, commonly recognized as papillary thyroid cancer has distinguishing characteristics. It is the most treatable type of thyroid cancer. According to the statistics, 10,000 new cases of this cancer are detected in the United States every year. Women are more susceptible to this type of cancer and it has been observed that majority of the people who develop this cancer, develop it before age 40.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer
Exact causes of papillary thyroid cancer are not yet known. People exposed to high levels of radiation are at a greater risk of developing the cancer. Genetic factors do play an important role in development of this type of cancer. It has been observed that those who have a family history of thyroid cancer or thyroid problems like goiter have increased risk of this cancer. Certain precancerous polyps in the colon are supposed to cause thyroid cancer. Age, race, sex influence the chances of getting papillary thyroid cancer. Lack of sufficient iodine in the diet can cause thyroid cancer. This cancer generally invades one side of the thyroid gland. It may invade the lymph nodes but it rarely spreads beyond the site.
Papillary thyroid cancer grows very slowly. In most of the cases, the cancer is asymptomatic. Patients come to know about the existing cancer only when doctors detect it during checkup. In most of the cases, a lump on the thyroid (thyroid nodule) that is not painful at all, is seen in front of the neck. If it is not visible, it is felt with fingers. One should consult a doctor immediately, if symptoms like throat pain, hoarse voice (change in voice quality), breathing difficulty or difficulty in swallowing are noticed and if these symptoms don’t respond to any kind of treatment.
In some cases, it may happen that the thyroid nodule is not visible and is not felt even by the doctor. Instead, swollen lymph nodes are noticed. This indicates spread of cancer into the lymph nodes. But remember, swollen lymph nodes do not necessarily indicate thyroid cancer. Lymph nodes can swell due to an infection, a benign goiter or any other problem. For example, a severe sore throat can result in swollen lymph nodes. But swelling should disappear when infection goes away. Persistent swelling of lymph nodes can be a cause of concern.
Papillary thyroid cancer staging depends upon the size of the original tumor and the extent of spread to nearby lymph nodes and organs. Early detection of cancer ensures 100% recovery. In the early stage, when the cancer tumor is very small and confined to the thyroid gland only, it is easy to remove it surgically. In the second stage of the cancer, tumor can be 2-4 cm large but it is still confined to the original site only. During the third stage, tumor grows in size and spreads to the nearby lymph nodes. During the fourth stage, it invades distant organs.
Physical examination, blood tests which detect abnormal thyroid levels, ultrasonography, radionuclide scanning, fine needle aspiration and surgical biopsy help diagnose papillary thyroid cancer. If your doctor detects iodine deficiency symptoms, then he may ask you to undergo certain tests.
Papillary thyroid cancer treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Side effects of surgery and the treatment may vary from person to person. It will depend upon the severity of the cancer, the size of the tumor, patient’s age, overall health and whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. All or some part of the thyroid gland is removed surgically. Removal of entire thyroid gland is known as thyroidectomy. Nearby lymph nodes are also sometimes removed. Thyroid hormone pills, vitamin supplements are recommended after the surgery.
Papillary thyroid cancer prognosis is usually favorable and the survival rate is excellent. The ten-year survival rate for all patients with this cancer is about 80-90%. Chances of recurrence are higher when the cancer is detected after it has spread to the lymph nodes but in that case too, life expectancy of the patient does not get much affected. So, if one notices any symptoms of papillary thyroid cancer, he/she should consult a physician immediately.