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Thyroid Cancer- Signs, Symptoms & Management

It has been a long known fact that unlike other cancers the cancers of the thyroid organ can affect your body far more adversely than the others. The thyroid is an important endocrine gland located at the base of throat in front of trachea. It is composed of 2 wing shaped lobes connected by isthmus. Thyroid uses iodine to secrete hormones that control various body functions like heart rate , blood pressure, body temperature and metabolic rate. Normal thyroid gland is not visible or easily palpable. Hence the thyroid gland can be defined as the hormone power house of the body and any malfunctioning in the same can affect a number of functions in the body.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer and its types:

  • Thyroid cancers can broadly be divided into three type’s namely well differentiated, medullary and anaplastic type.
  • Life time risk of developing cancer of thyroid is 1.2% with incidence more common in females. Most common variety is papillary type. Mean age for thyroid cancer is 50 years.
  • Thyroid nodules are very common in general population and majority of them are benign, regardless of palpability. Approximately 5% of thyroid nodules detected clinically are malignant. Usually only nodules measuring > 1 cm are evaluated unless there are other risk factors which increase suspicion of malignancy.

Signs & Symptoms associated with Thyroid Cancer :

Thyroid cancers usually presents as :

  • Swelling in neck
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Breathing difficulty or hoarseness of voice may also be present.
  • A constant cough that is not due to a cold

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by non-cancerous conditions or even other cancers of the neck area. Lumps in the thyroid are common and are usually benign. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Management of Thyroid Cancer :

  • Investigation of choice is ultrasound of neck and FNAC.
  • The management is mainly surgical with total thyroidectomy with or without neck dissection as preferred modality followed by radioiodine therapy if needed.
  • Risks of surgery include chances of injury to recurrent laryngeal nerve [<1%], and injury to parathyroid glands. The patients will also suffer from permanent hypothyroidism for which thyroxine supplementation is required for whole life.
  • The survival in well differentiated thyroid cancers is in tune of 90% for early stages over a period of 5 years. The survival although is poor in anaplastic variety.
  • The response to radioactive iodine and the indolent course is responsible for superior survival in well differentiated thyroid cancers.

Please note that in any type of cancer, early detection and timely treatment are essential. Hence it is best that you consult a thyroid cancer specialist, medical oncologist or a head and neck cancer specialist at the earliest.