Understanding Thyroid Cancer
Many people feel shocked and upset when told they have “thyroid cancer”. Many of you reading this article might feel the same or you may also assume two different disorders – ‘thyroid’ and ‘cancer’. But, we are not joking, it is called as thyroid cancer together.
To understand thyroid cancer in a better way, let us explain about ‘cancer’.
Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body’s basic building blocks. The body constantly makes new cells to help us grow, replace worn-out tissue and heal injuries. Normally, cells multiply and die in an orderly way. Sometimes cells don’t grow, divide and die in the usual way. This may cause blood or lymph fluid in the body to become abnormal, or form a lump called a tumour.
Similarly, when the cells of the thyroid gland grow and divide in an abnormal way, it is called as thyroid cancer. Depending on the cells affected, thyroid cancer can be of several types:
Types of Thyroid Cancer:
- most common type (about 70–80% of all cases)
- develops from the follicular cells
- tends to grow slowly
- about 20% of thyroid cancer cases
- develops from the follicular cells
- includes Hürthle cell carcinoma, a less common subtype
- about 4% of all thyroid cancers
- develops from the parafollicular cells (C-cells)
- can run in families in families
- a rare thyroid cancer (1% of cases)
- may develop from papillary or follicular thyroid cancer
- usually grows quickly, and
- affects people over 60
Thyroid Cancer Signs and Symptoms:
Thyroid cancer usually develops slowly, without many obvious signs or symptoms. However, some people experience one or more of the following:
- a painless lump in the neck or throat, which may gradually get bigger
- trouble swallowing
- difficulty breathing
- a hoarse voice
- Swollen lymph glands in the neck, which may slowly grow in size over months or years.
Having a painless lump in the neck is the most common sign. However, thyroid lumps, known as nodules, are relatively common and most are benign. In about 9 out of 10 cases, a thyroid nodule is a symptom of a goitre (a benign enlarged thyroid gland) or another condition affecting the head or neck.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier thyroid cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat and the more successful treatment is likely to be.
What are the risk factors?
The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, but several factors are known to increase the risk of developing it. Having some of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop thyroid cancer. Most people with thyroid cancer have no known risk factors.
- Exposure to radiation
A small number of thyroid cancer cases are due to having radiotherapy to the head and neck area as a child, or living in an area with high levels of radiation in the environment, such as a nuclear accident site. Thyroid cancer usually takes 10–20 years to develop after radiation exposure.
- Family history
Some people inherit a faulty gene called the RET gene, which increases their risk of developing thyroid cancer. This gene can cause familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC) or multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN).
Having a first-degree relative (parent, child or sibling) with papillary thyroid cancer may also increase your risk.
If you have a family history of thyroid cancer, ask your doctor to refer you to a genetic counsellor or a family cancer clinic.
Having a thyroid condition, such as thyroid nodules, an enlarged thyroid (goitre) or inflammation of the thyroid, only slightly increases your chance of developing thyroid cancer.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Since thyroid cancer is a relatively rare condition, you may be investigated for other diseases that cause similar symptoms. Thyroid cancer is suspected when the other conditions are all ruled out. It is diagnosed by biopsying the thyroid tissue, imaging tests like the PET scan and the CT scan. Genetic testing may be recommended if your doctor sees a suspicious family history.
Thyroid cancer is generally treated by surgically removing the affected part. Near total thyroidectomy involves removal of the entire thyroid gland. Surgeons also advise removing the surrounding lymph nodes to which the thyroid drains.
Thyroid lobectomy is removal of only one lobe of the thyroid. This is advised in cases where the cancer affected tissues are restricted to a small area.
Surgery to the thyroid gland involves several risks. There may be severe bleeding and infection; the parathyroid hormone may get affected leading to low calcium levels in the body, there may be permanent voice changes due to the affection of the nerves supplying the vocal cord.
However, you can take homeopathy treatment for thyroid cancer. Homeopathy treats the illness from its root cause. The treatment may time in severe cases, but treatment results are assured if followed wisely under the supervision of a good homeopathic practitioner.