Thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a small gland present at the base of the neck. One of the common symptoms of this cancer is a painless lump or swelling in the neck. Although it is not a common type of cancer, it accounts to 1 – 5% of all cancers.
Causes & Risk factors
In most cases, the exact cause of thyroid cancer is not known. However, there are certain factors that increase your risk of suffering from the condition. These include –
- Suffering from non-cancerous thyroid problem
- Over-exposure to radiation
- If you have a family history of thyroid cancer
- If you have a history of breast cancer
- Acromegaly (a condition causing excess production of growth hormone)
- Diet containing low levels of iodine
- Being overweight
- Gender (women are at a high risk of developing cancer as compared to men)
Thyroid cancer usually does not any significant signs and symptoms in its initial stage. And in most cases, a lump or swelling in the neck manifests as one of the common signs of thyroid cancer. However, as the condition reaches its advanced stage, you may experience –
- Sore throat
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Unexplained hoarseness
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the neck
- Frequent cough (not related to cold)
If you experience any of the symptoms of thyroid cancer, your doctor might do a physical examination of the neck and ask you about your illness, habits and treatment you are undergoing. This is followed by the following tests -
Thyroid function test: A blood test used to determine the blood levels of thyroid hormones namely T3, T4 and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone).
Fine-needle aspiration cytology: It involves removal of the thyroid tissue with the help of a fine needle-like structure. The sample is then observed under a microscope for cancerous cells.
Ultrasound: In this, high-energy sound waves pass through the organ under observation. The deviations are measured with the help of a computer and then the images are printed.
CT Scan: This provides a series of detailed pictures of the neck region and thus, help in the detection of the tumour of the thyroid gland.
MRI: It also helps in the detection of thyroid cancer by helping in the analysis of the organ that is studied through digital images stored by the computer. Here is everything you should know about MRI.
Depending upon the stage and type of the thyroid cancer, your doctor will decide the treatment option.
1. Chemotherapy – It is the most common form of treatment that involves the use of drugs to stop the growth of the cancerous cells. Here is a detailed explanation about chemotherapy.
2. Radiation therapy – This treatment option uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancerous cells. Again this therapy is of two types:
• Internal radiation therapy in which radioactive substances are placed near the cancerous cells
• External radiation therapy that involves sending radiation from a machine outside the body
3. Surgery – If the cancer is non-malignant in nature, this is the most preferred option to treat cancer. In this, either a part of the thyroid gland or the entire gland is surgically removed (depending upon the extent of the malignancy).
4. Thyroid hormone therapy – This technique blocks the action of the thyroid hormones and thus, stops the cancerous cells from growing. It also involves the use of drugs to prevent the body from producing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which might enhance the growth of the tumour.
5. Targeted therapy – It is a type of treatment that helps in killing the cancerous cells without harming the normal cells in the body. It involves targeting a specific substance such as tyrosine kinase inhibitor to inhibit the growth of the cancerous cells.
With all the available evidence, you can prevent thyroid cancer by eating a diet rich in low-fat and high in fibre. Hence, make sure you include fresh vegetables and fruits in your diet.
Women should get themselves checked for thyroid function test as they reach their menopause.