The thyroid gland is a small yet very significant gland of the human body. It is located at the base of the neck, and it secretes specific hormones that control many important roles of the human body, like temperature, pressure, weight, and pulse rate. Cancerous growth in the thyroid gland is known as thyroid cancer, which is one of the less common types of cancers worldwide. Also, while the cancer strikes at a very important organ which can affect many functions of the body, thyroid cancer can be completely cured if it is detected reasonably early.
Although it is curable, the trouble with thyroid cancer is that the symptoms are not very overt, and so it usually takes long to diagnose. The symptoms at home which should make you reach out to a doctor are fairly commonplace, but they take a long time to manifest themselves. You might feel a bump or lump in your throat. Your voice might become unnaturally hoarse, and there might be other changes to your voice as well. This could be accompanied by painful sensation in your neck and throat, especially when you swallow. You might also observe swollen lymph nodes on your next.
Doctors use the markets provided by the TNM staging methodology to understand how far the cancer has progressed. Under T (tumour), the size and location of the tumour is assessed. The N (node) assessment speaks about the lymph nodes and whether the tumour has advanced to these lymph nodes. The number and location of such nodes are assessed. Finally, under M (metastasis), the extent of the spread to other parts and organs of the body is assessed. Based on these three scores, a combined assessment is done which provides the stage of the thyroid cancer. This could be Stage 0 or Stage 1 to 4, with 4 being the most severe.
At a broad level, we do know that mutations in healthy cells produce unmanageable numbers of cancerous cells leads to thyroid cancer. But the specific cause is still not clear. What we can do is understand the source of the thyroid cancer which can help us understand the cause. For example, some thyroid cancers are caused by papillary thyroid while others by follicular thyroid. Additionally, there cancer could be due to medullary thyroid or anaplastic thyroid. Many people also suffer from a rare cancer of the thyroid lymphoma.
The diagnosis of thyroid cancer can be done in any one of five ways.
Physical Examination – The physician will examine you visually and by touching your throat and neck area. This could also be accompanied by preliminary questions about medical history of self and family.
Blood Tests – The results help the doctor ascertain if the secretions from the thyroid gland are normal.
Tissue Collection – A fine needle biopsy is done to collect a sample of gland tissue.
Imaging tests – Some of the common tests carried out are CT scans, PET scans, or ultrasound tests.
Genetic tests – Some doctors recommend genetic tests to understand family history for this disease.
The specific type of treatment that would be used to treat a person’s thyroid cancer on what type of cancer has affected, and which stage the cancer is in. There are three modes of surgery that are most common. The first is thyroid lobectomy, in which a portion of the thyroid gland is detached. The second is to remove lymph nodes from the neck. The most common and effective process of treatment of thyroid cancer is thyroidectomy, in which all of the thyroid (or most of it) is removed. Some other treatment methods are hormone therapy, radioactive iodine therapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.
People staying close to a nuclear power plant are prone to thyroid cancer if the plant has an accident. Radiation affects the thyroid gland, and it can be prevented with the use of potassium iodide. Apart from this set of people, other categories who are more prone to thyroid cancer are adults and children with inherited gene mutation. Such people can go in for prophylactic thyroidectomy as a preventive measure to prevent thyroid cancer. For all others, a regular and healthy lifestyle can always help prevent thyroid cancer.