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Thyroid cancer

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The thyroid is a gland shaped something like a butterfly in the base of the neck. The thyroid is small, but highly valuable as it dictates the release of several hormones along with determining the rate of the body’s metabolism. It is not uncommon for patients to develop fluid filled bumps in the gland known as nodules. In most cases, the nodules either go away on their own or turn out to be benign. However, sometimes a biopsy will reveal that these nodules are in fact cancerous, and the patient is then diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer carries an excellent prognosis. Most patients with thyroid cancer are successfully in remission after a surgical procedure and one round of chemotherapy. Just like all cancers, early detection is the key to a positive outcome.

THYROID CANCER SYMPTOMS

Thyroid cancer doesn’t have any symptoms in the beginning stages. Only after the cancer progresses do symptoms become apparent to the victim. As the cancer progresses, symptoms such as a lump in the front of the throat just under the Adam’s apple which sometimes grows quite rapidly, trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes especially in the neck, and pain that often starts in the neck and spreads through the throat and up toward the ears. These symptoms can also mean the patient has a thyroid infection or other type of illness as well.

THYROID CANCER CAUSES

Thyroid cancer can come from either type of cell that creates the thyroid gland. Follicle cells, which are responsible for thyroid proteins, and C cells, which are responsible for creating calcitonin, each can develop different types of thyroid cancer. Cancer is always caused by cells that grow wildly out of control without any regulation, creating lumps and affecting the tissue that surrounds it. Thus, any time the cells reproduce at an alarming rate, the result is almost always cancerous.

THYROID CANCER RISK FACTOR

White Americans are the most at risk for developing thyroid cancer. Young adults are also more susceptible to thyroid cancer, although it can develop during any stage of life. Women who experience their last pregnancy after the age of 30 are at a higher risk for this type of cancer, and women in general are more likely to experience thyroid cancer.
thyroid cancer
Image: Thyroid cancer


Some inherited conditions like Gardner’s syndrome make it more likely that the patient will become a victim of this type of cancer. A family history and exposure to radiation are also clinical risk factors associated with thyroid cancer. Radiation used as acne treatments, that which is used to treat childhood diseases, and radiation from nuclear fallout or from some type of exposure is all considered an equal risk factor.

THYROID CANCER DIAGNOSIS

Most nodules are found during routine examinations and wellness check ups. When a physician asks a patient to swallow while their hand is placed along the neck, they are checking for nodules. Some smaller nodules can be detected through testing and imaging necessary for other types of illnesses or injuries. In rare cases, the patient will find them while feeling along their own neck.

Once a nodule has been discovered, testing is necessary to determine whether it is benign or malignant. Ultrasound scans, fine needle aspiration biopsies, and blood tests are all part of the diagnostic process. If the nodules are determined to be cancerous, there will be further testing to determine what stage the cancer is in and whether or not it has spread.

THYROID CANCER TREATMENT

Thyroid cancer can make certain activities, like swallowing, very difficult. Difficulty breathing, hoarseness, and diarrhea are all common complications. There is always the risk that the cancer will continue to spread.


Most patients undergo surgery right away to remove almost the entire cancerous gland. In some cases, the lymph nodes surrounding the thyroid gland will be removed as well. Because the patient loses most of the thyroid gland they will have to take medication for the rest of their lives to replace the hormones that the thyroid regulates. In rare cases, nerve damage may result which would require speech therapy if possible and sometimes even therapy to help keep the muscles around the area tight. Most patients undergo a round of chemotherapy before a follow up examination determines the state of the cancer. Few patients experience any more cancer after that.

Clinical trials have developed some very important advancements in thyroid cancers and patients should seriously consider being part of them. After all, thyroid cancer does not get the same attention as other cancers, partly because the risk of death or malformation is low. However, clinical trials offer the public a wider margin for success.
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