Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Complications, Diagnosis, Treatment, Outlook and Prevention

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Illustration of Thyroid Cancer

1Overview

The thyroid gland plays a major part in the metabolism of the body, it regulates the blood pressure, the heart rate, weight and body temperature. Two types of cells make up the thyroid gland: the C cells which are responsible for the production of the hormone calcitonin and the other type of cell if the Follicular cells, these cells use the iodine in the blood to make hormones that regulate the metabolism of the body.

The exact cause of the development of cancer is not yet known but there is a link between the DNA of the person that puts them at a higher risk of developing cancer. The cells then mutate in the thyroid tissues and invade the healthy cells. The treatments are effective especially when it is detected early.

2Symptoms

During the early stages, the symptoms are minimal that the patient does not know that the tumor is present. Upon assessment, there a noticeable changes in the body like:

  • The sudden change of voice like hoarseness and sometimes loss of voice may happen.
  • Swallowing may be difficult for the patient due to the discomfort in the throat.
  • Pain and tenderness present in the neck.
  • A lump is felt during palpation of the neck area.
  • The lymph nodes are enlarged and sometimes accompanied by tenderness when palpated.
  • A cough that is not healing
  • Difficulty in breathing can happen when the tumor is large enough to impede the airway in the throat.

3Causes

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is still unknown but DNA mutation plays a role in the formation of cancer cells. The abnormal cells then will grow and spread rapidly or slowly in the nearby cells. These mutated DNA genes can be inherited.

There several types of thyroid cancer-like:

Follicular Thyroid cancer

This type of cancer is located on the follicular cells in the thyroid and usually, people over 50 years old are prone to have this type of cancer.

Medullary thyroid cancer

This cancer is located in the C cells of the thyroid gland which is responsible for the regulation of calcitonin in the body. An increase in the levels of calcitonin in the system can be an early sign of medullary cancer.

Thyroid lymphoma

A rare type of thyroid cancer that involves the immune system cells located in the thyroid gland and usually metastasized very fast.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

People ages 60 years old and above have the highest risk of having this type of thyroid cancer. The anaplastic thyroid cancer tends to spread rapidly and hard to treat.

Papillary thyroid cancer

The most common type of thyroid cancer is the papillary thyroid cancer because it always starts in the follicular cells of the gland. Ages 30 to 50 year old are affected by this type of thyroid cancer.

4Risk Factors

Some factors can increase the risk of having thyroid cancer-like.

Gender and Age

Thyroid cancer is more prevalent in women ages 40 years old and above than men.

Family history

Family members who have a history of having thyroid cancer in the family can increase the risk of having it also due to the genes being inherited.

Radiation

Long exposure to radiation especially in the head and neck can increase the chances of having thyroid cancer.

Diet

Deficiency in iodine can also increase the risk of having papillary cancer. Since iodine is needed by the thyroid hormones, low amount of iodine in the blood will cause problems in the future.

5Complications

Treatments are available if the patient is diagnosed with thyroid cancer but even after the treatment there will be complications that can still arise like the recurrence of cancer.
The abnormal cells may develop again or some cells spread in the lymph nodes or tissues in the neck.

6Diagnosis

To detect thyroid cancer, tests that are done like:

A routine medical check-up

The physical examination is done by the doctor to have a detailed assessment of the patient.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests can help the doctor see the organs, tissues and also tumors in the body. Ultrasound, CT-scan and positron emission tomography or PET scan can give the exact location and size of the tumor.

Blood tests

A blood sample will be drawn from the patient’s blood to see the levels of the thyroid hormones. Elevated levels of these hormones can indicate that the thyroid is not functioning well.

Biopsy

A small sample of the thyroid tissue is obtained to see if there are any deviances within the cells. It is also a confirmatory test to determine if there are any cancer cells in the tissue.

Genetic exam

If the doctor determines that the patient has a family history of thyroid cancer, a genetic exam is ordered to determine if the person has the gene that increases the risk of having the same type of cancer.

7Treatment

The type treatment is determined by the location and stage of cancer. Most of the cases can be treated and can be cured.

Surgery

Thyroidectomy

The total removal of the thyroid gland is done to treat cancer. The incision is made in the neck of the patient to have a better access to the gland. Sometimes the surgeon leaves pieces of the thyroid tissue around the parathyroid glands to decrease the risk of damaging the glands.

Lobectomy

Lobectomy of the gland is also done if the tumor is small and the other segments of the thyroid gland are not affected by it.

The lymph nodes are also assessed, to make sure that there are no cancer cells left, the surgeon will also remove the lymph nodes near the thyroid gland.

Complications may also arise after the surgery like infection and bleeding on the incision site. There is an increasing risk that the parathyroid is damaged due to the surgery. The inability to speak or loss of voice can also be a complication by accidental damaged of the nerves in the neck.

Radioactive iodine

It is done to remove the cancer cells that are left behind after the surgery. The iodine is both in a liquid form or a pill, the iodine will be absorbed by the thyroid cells including the cancer cells and this can destroy the cells without harming the healthy tissues.

The iodine will be excreted in the urine after a few days, side effects will also be present during the treatment of dry mouth and dry eyes, fatigue, and nausea.

Radiation therapy

A machine is used to deliver high energy beams and target the cancer cells in the body. The treatment is done by schedule to ensure the effectivity of the radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy

The treatment is either in a pill form or a liquid form. The chemicals present in the treatment can kill the cancer cells in the gland. Side effects of the drug are present like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dry mouth and lips and even loss of hair.

Thyroid Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is done to supply the body with the missing hormones that the thyroid gland is producing before it was removed. Blood tests are done to monitor the levels of the hormones in the body.

Palliative care

The healthcare providers will provide supportive care for the patient who has thyroid cancer. Management of pain is one of the treatments that is given to minimize the pain felt by the patient.

8Outlook

When the patient is diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the doctor will determine the best plan of action for the patient. A thorough assessment and tests will be done to determine the stage of cancer, the early the diagnosis is, the higher the chance the patient will be cured of cancer.

If the cancer is localized in the gland only the chances of survival is about 99 percent,
if cancer spreads to the nearby tissue and lymph nodes the chances are about 98 percent and if it metastasized in the other organs the 5-year survival rate of the patient would decrease to 55 percent.

9Prevention

Avoid radiation exposure

People who work at nuclear plants and radiologists should wear protective clothing to avoid the large doses of radiations emitted by the machines. In children, avoid exposing them to radiation like x-rays if possible.

Blood tests

Have regular check-ups like blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones in the body, especially if the person has a family history of thyroid cancer. The person can also encourage his or her family members to have a check-up to see who have the mutated gene.

Healthy lifestyle

Eat nutritious foods and have enough exercise to keep your body healthy at all times. Active lifestyle prevents certain diseases and can help boost the immune system.

Educate yourself

Knowing thyroid cancer can help you be aware of the symptoms and act immediately if there are any warning signs.

Have a regular self-examination at home

Palpate the neck if there are any lumps, monitor your health, seek medical assistance if your sore-throat is not healing, loss of voice and also if you are experiencing discomfort in swallowing or even speaking.