Your thyroid is such a small part of your body that it’s pretty much out of sight and out of mind throughout your life. It does its job within the body without much fanfare or attention needed. It works to produce hormones that help regular everything from your heart rate to your blood pressure to your weight. But because the thyroid gland is so unassuming, it can be difficult to catch illnesses that involve the thyroid – like thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer can easily go unnoticed, which is quite problematic for long-term health. Search online to learn more about thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer may be a type of cancer you don’t know much about. But each year, it’s becoming increasingly more common. As thyroid cancer affects more and more people, it’s quickly becoming a cancer everyone needs to be aware of. If you want to learn what thyroid cancer can look like, search online.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re concerned about developing thyroid cancer.
How Thyroid Cancer Forms
Thyroid cancer forms in the cells of the thyroid. The thyroid is quite small; it’s a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck. It’s pretty important when it comes to hormones, but otherwise you likely won’t pay much attention to this little gland.
When thyroid cancer begins, the cells in your thyroid are undergoing genetic changes. They’re mutating, which allows the cells to rapidly grow and multiply – and they lose their ability to die. These abnormal cells continue to grow, forming a mass or tumor. And if left unchecked or untreated, those cells will begin to spread to nearby tissue.
Thyroid cancer is different from person to person. Some cases are slow-growing and unnoticeable. Others are very aggressive.
No matter how thyroid cancer appears in the body, doctors know that it’s becoming much more common. Thyroid cancer rates are increasing. While doctors think this may be thanks to advances in technology that can find very small thyroid cancers, it’s unclear if other factors may be at play.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are different types of thyroid cancer. Type is determined by classifying the kinds of cells present in a thyroid cancer tumor.
You can be diagnosed with any one of a number of types of thyroid cancer, including:
- Papillary thyroid cancer, which is the most common kind of thyroid cancer. It most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.
- Follicular thyroid cancer, which typically affects people over age 50. It’s a cancer of the thyroid’s follicular cells.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is a rare type of thyroid cancer that grows rapidly and is tough to treat. It’s commonly found in individuals aged 60 and older.
- Medullary thyroid cancer, which occurs in the thyroid’s C cells. This kind of cancer is thought to be connected to certain genetic syndromes.
In addition to these types of thyroid cancer, there are other more rare varieties that can occur. From thyroid lymphoma to thyroid sarcoma, there are a number of rare cancers that can have a significant impact on your health.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
When thyroid cancer first begins, it comes with no symptoms. You can’t feel whether or not your thyroid gland is healthy. And you likely won’t notice any effects on your overall health and wellness.
Typically, symptoms don’t appear until thyroid cancer has progressed. Once it reaches later stages, it can begin to show symptoms like:
- A lump in your throat.
- Hoarseness in the throat.
- A cough.
- Pain in the throat and neck.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the neck.
If you think you might be experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to find a doctor with expertise in thyroid cancer. Search online to find doctors in your area who can diagnose what’s causing your symptoms or health concerns.
Diagnosing Thyroid Cancer
In order to determine whether the symptoms and health issues you’re experiencing are caused by thyroid cancer, you’ll need to undergo some diagnostic testing and exams.
The process of diagnosing thyroid cancer typically includes:
- A physical exam of the neck that looks for small or large masses as well as enlarged lymph nodes.
- Thyroid function tests.
- A thyroglobulin text, which looks specifically for certain types of thyroid cancers.
- An ultrasound of the thyroid.
- Thyroid scans.
- A check of blood calcium, phosphorus, and calcitonin levels.
- Thyroid biopsies.
- A laryngoscopy.
Your doctor will order diagnostic tests as needed to find the root of any symptoms you’re experiencing. Need a doctor in your area? You can search online to find and compare local doctors who can help you get a diagnosis.
How Thyroid Cancer is Treated
There are a number of ways thyroid cancer can be treated. However, treatment options do depend on your unique case. The type of thyroid cancer, its stage, and other general health factors – like your age, overall health, and any other conditions – will all affect which treatments are best for you.
The following are the most common ways thyroid cancer is treated:
- Surgery: Surgery is often used to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. It can also be performed to remove affected lymph nodes and cancerous tissue.
- Radioactive iodine ablation: Also known as RAI, this treatment option destroys thyroid tissue that may be cancerous. It’s often used in combination with surgery.
- Thyroid hormone therapy: Typically given in the form of pills, thyroid hormone therapy is used to prevent thyroid cancer from recurring.
- Radiation: Also called external beam radiation or x-ray therapy, radiation can destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Used commonly for fast-growing types of thyroid cancer, chemotherapy can attach cancer cells via pills, shots, or intravenous treatment.
- Targeted therapy: A newer treatment option, targeted therapy is able to attack only certain parts of cancer cells to slow or stop their growth.
Thyroid cancer is generally quite treatable. However, keep in mind that detecting cancer earlier rather than later always offers a better prognosis. To make sure you catch anything – including potential thyroid cancer – as early as possible, make sure you’re seeing a doctor regularly.