Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects thyroid glands. It gives rise to different symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, difficulty in speaking and swallowing, pain in throat, etc. Let's find out in detail about the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer.
A butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located just below the Adam’s apple at the base of the neck. It produces the hormones that regulate metabolism. Sometimes, there may be development of solid or fluid-filled nodules in the thyroid glands. Most of these lumps are benign (noncancerous) and don’t cause any symptoms. Thyroid cancer develops when there is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of thyroid cells, resulting in the formation of a cancerous tumor. If left untreated, it can spread to other body parts, nerves, lymph nodes and blood vessels through a process, known as metastasis. Women, people over 30 years of age, Caucasians in USA, exposure to radiation and family history are the risk factors for thyroid cancer.
The major types of thyroid cancer are papillary cancer, follicular cancer, medullary cancer, anaplastic cancer and thyroid lymphoma. Papillary cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer, which develops from thyroid follicle cells. Women between 30 and 50 years of age are more prone to this type of thyroid cancer. Follicular cancer is more aggressive and can invade arteries and veins within the thyroid and then spread to bones and heart.
Medullary cancer develops in calcitonin-producing C cells of thyroid gland. This type of tumor produces a protein, called carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Sporadic tumors, multiple endocrine neoplasia, type II and familiar cancer are three main types of medullary cancer. Anaplastic cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer. It is highly aggressive and rapidly spreads to lymph nodes, trachea and then to other organs, specifically bones and lungs. Thyroid lymphoma generally develops in the cells of immune system, i.e. lymphocytes.
In most cases, signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are not noticed during the early stages. As the cancer develops, there are some prominent signs and symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer are:
- Difficulty in swallowing and breathing
- Pain in neck and throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
- Hoarseness (difficulty in speaking in a normal voice)
- Persistent cough, without cold or other illness
- Change in voice
In addition to these symptoms, there may be a number of complications due to a thyroid nodule. There may be an excessive production of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism). It can cause symptoms such as weight loss, nervousness and rapid heartbeat. Patient may also suffer from diarrhea due to the hormones secreted by medullary thyroid cancer cells. Metastasis or spread of cancer to other tissues and organs is the most serious complication of thyroid cancer. However, the above-mentioned signs can be observed in some other thyroid conditions such as a benign thyroid nodule, benign enlargement of thyroid gland (goiter) and infection or inflammation of thyroid gland. These conditions can be easily cured.
An accurate diagnosis of thyroid cancer is necessary to seek an appropriate treatment. Diagnosis is based on physical examination for thyroid, lymph nodes and voice box, blood tests such as TSH levels (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), thyroid scan, FNAC (fine needle aspiration cytology) and surgical biopsy. Staging of cancer is necessary in order to decide the treatment plan. Staging is done on the basis of ultrasonography, CT scan (Computerized Tomography) and MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
There are various treatment options for thyroid cancer. Depending upon the stage and type, it can be treated with radioactive iodine, surgery, hormone treatment, chemotherapy or external radiation. Some patients need a combination of treatments.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.