Thyroid cancer: When cancer appears in the thyroid gland it is called thyroid cancer. The thyroid gland helps in the regulation of the body’s metabolism. When cancer cells affect the thyroid they may spread to nearby lymph nodes very easily. Thyroid cancer is the most curable type of cancer when detected in the early stages. Most thyroid cancers are slow-growing.
Signs and Symptoms:
Following are the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer.
Change in Voice: Usually called hoarseness, is due to pressure exerted by enlarged thyroid on vocal cords. So the patient may feel the change in voice.
Feeling Pressure on the Trachea: The patient will feel something pressing the trachea. As the thyroid gland is located in front of the trachea so increase in size in the thyroid exerts pressure on the trachea.
Shortness of Breath: Pressure on the trachea may result in shortness of breath.
Swollen Neck: An enlarged thyroid results in neck swelling.
Easily Fatigued and Weak: As the thyroid gland regulates the body’s metabolism by producing hormones, a change in the level of hormones due to thyroid dysfunction will result in an altered patient’s metabolism, Due to impaired metabolism patient’s complaints of fatigue and weakness in performing daily living activities.
Nodule felt in the Neck. A nodule may be felt in the neck through the skin.
Enlarge lymph Nodes: If cancer spreads to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, lymph nodes feel enlarged on physical assessment.
Difficulty in Swallowing: The patient has to swallow difficulty due to pressure exerted by an enlarged thyroid on the esophagus.
Weight Loss: There may be a decrease in the weight of the patient without trying.
Thyroid cancer may be assessed by following techniques.
Physical Assessment and Medical History: Your physician will assess the thyroid gland and proper neck assessment. This is done to find any swelling, change in voice, swollen lymph nodes, etc.
Thyroid Ultrasound: A thyroid ultrasound is performed to check any abnormal mass or nodule in the thyroid gland and to see changes in size and shape. In this test, the patient will also be assessed for the spread of the disease to nearby lymph nodes.
Thyroid Biopsy: In this test, a small piece of tissue from the suspicious area is taken for further investigation. Cancer is diagnosed on the basis of a biopsy report and also confirms the type of cancer.
Whole Body Scan (CT scan/MRI): The whole body is tested/ for the presence of disease in any other area of the body. This is done by performing a CT scan or MRI.
What is the most effective treatment for thyroid cancer?
Thyroidectomy: When the cancer is specific to the thyroid gland then thyroidectomy is performed. (Removal of the thyroid gland by giving a surgical cut in the neck ). This could be complete/partial depending upon the involvement of cancer cells. After thyroidectomy again radioactive iodine is given to finish any left cancer residual.
Complete Thyroidectomy: In this type, the whole thyroid gland is removed.
Partial Thyroidectomy /lobectomy: In this type, the only lobe or the part containing cancer is removed.
Radioactive iodine Therapy: This is a kind of radiation therapy in which radioactive iodine is given to the patient. The radioactive iodine is given in the oral form. Cancer cell in the thyroid absorbs all the iodine. This iodine kills cancer cells. This therapy is also called internal radiation therapy. This therapy is done when the cancer is spread beyond the thyroid gland.
What are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown but the following may be some risk factors.
Family History: People with a family history are at higher risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Radiation Exposure: Patients who have been treated with radiation, especially radiations given to the head and neck are at greater risk of it.
A diet Low or High in iodine: Thyroid cancer is caused due to low iodine levels in food or diet; on the other hand it could also be caused due to high consumption of iodine in diet. However, Diet balanced iodine ratio is necessary to prevent thyroid cancer.
After Thyroid Cancer Treatment: once the patient is free from disease the following measures must be taken;
Proper follow-ups with your physician: Being a thyroid cancer survivor it is very important to make follow-ups with your concerned doctor.
An Iodine Scan: After the treatment in the follow-up visit your physician will advise for an iodine scan. In which very low dose iodine will be given orally and scan your thyroid gland area. If the result is negative then there is no need further.
TSH and Thyroglobulin Levels after Thyroidectomy:
The patient will be regularly tested for Thyroid stimulating hormone and thyroglobulin. After complete thyroidectomy, there will be very low levels of thyroglobulin in the blood. If the levels are high in blood this indicates that cancer is coming back For which the patient will be again followed through a whole body scan usually called a PET scan. The patient will be on a thyroxin tablet to replace the function of the thyroid so its dose will be adjusted also by doing TSH levels.
Hence, thyroid cancer is treatable in its early stages and treatment depends upon the type and stage of the disease. Early detection of signs and symptoms is very important for early diagnosis. Follow-up visits are very necessary for the reoccurrence of the disease.