The term Thyroid Cancer refers to a malignant tumor or neoplasm that appears on the thyroid gland. It’s quite important to know more about the structure and function of the thyroid gland in order to understand more about the cancer.
The thyroid gland is located below the Adam’s apple right in the front part of your neck. In most cases, the gland is not felt or seen. It’s usually has the shape of the butterfly with left and right lobes which are joined together. The gland has 2 kinds of cells namely Parafollicular cells and the thyroid follicular cells. The follicular cells make use of iodine from the blood in forming the thyroid hormone which assists a lot in regulating metabolism in humans. When this thyroid hormone becomes too much; it becomes a condition known as hyperthyroidism. This normally causes irregular or rapid heartbeat, weight loss, nervousness, insomnia and other conditions. On the other hand when the hormone is not much, the condition is known as hypothyroidism. This can cause you to feel weak or gain more weight. The amount of thyroid hormone normally released by the thyroid is usually regulated by the pituitary gland which is located at the base of the brain.
Now, the Parafollicular cells also known as C cells secrete calcitonin which is a hormone that regulates the calcium level in the body. There are also other lesser types of cells in the thyroid gland. They include the lymphocytes or the immune system cells and the stronmal cells also known as supportive cells.
The above mentioned cells in the thyroid gland are expected to follow the normally process of cell regeneration. They are expected to grow, divide, die and regenerate. Now, when they fail to divide or die, they keep on multiplying exceedingly. This leads to the condition known as Thyroid Cancer. There are different kinds of tumors that develop on each of the cells of the thyroids. Some of them can be benign or non-cancerous while others may be very malignant or cancerous. The malignant ones can actually cause the individual several discomforts all through life.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
In most cases, the very first symptom of Thyroid Cancer showcases in the form of nodule in the thyroid region. This is usually the case with many adults. They do have small nodules which may appear to be malignant. In some other instances, the first sign of the cancer may also appear as an enlarged lymph node. Some other symptoms of the cancer may include pain in the anterior region of the neck and changes in voice.
When the symptoms of Thyroid Cancer begins to showcase, it’s important you go for proper diagnosis at the hands of a reliable doctor. In most cases, the diagnosis begins after the thyroid nodule is discovered through a simple physical examination. You might be referred to an endocrinologist or an otolaryngologist or thyroidologist for further help. These are special professional medical doctors who specialize in treating Thyroid Cancer.
During the diagnosis, an ultrasound is likely to be carried out. This is necessary for the confirmation of the presence of the nodule. It’s also important for the assessment of the current health status of the thyroid gland.
Again, there may be a measurement of the thyroid stimulating hormones and other antibodies in order to detect the current functional ability of the thyroid. The diagnosis is also needed to detect the kind of cancer you may be having. When the diagnosis is properly concluded, the next stage is the commencement of treatment.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are 2 major common types of thyroid cancer. They include Papillary Carcinoma and Follicular Carcinoma. There are also other types that are not always common. They include medullary thyroid carcinoma, thyroid lymphoma, and anaplastic carcinoma. Let’s examine the details of the cancer types.
• Papillary Carcinoma
This is one of the most common types of thyroid cancer. It usually grows very slowly and also develops in one of the lobes of the thyroid gland. Sometimes, it can as well appear in the two lobes. This kind of cancer spreads to the lymph nodes right in the neck. Most often, the cancer can easily be treated especially when discovered on time. It’s rarely known to defile treatment. In most cases, it can be recognized under a microscope.
• Follicular Carcinoma
This is the second most common type of thyroid cancer. It’s much less common than papillary cancer. However, it’s very common in nations where people don’t normally have access to enough iodine in their meals. This kind of cancer may remain in the thyroid gland for a long time unless it’s discovered through a diagnosis. In most cases, follicular carcinomas don’t usually spread to the lymph nodes like the papillary carcinomas. However, some of them can as well spread to other parts of the body like the bones and the lungs.
Other Types of Thyroid Cancer
Apart from the above discussed common thyroid cancer types; there are also other types that are not all that common. Let’s have a look at them.
• Hurthle Cell Carcinoma
This is a kind of follicular carcinoma but its treatment is not usually as fast as other types of cancers. This is because, it finds it difficult to absorb radioactive iodine normally used in treating other kinds of thyroid cancers. It’s also known as oxyphil cell carcinoma.
• Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma
This usually emanates from the C cells of the thyroid gland. It can also spread to the lymph nodes, liver and lungs even before it’s discovered. The cancer releases carcinoembroyonic and calcitonin antigen in human blood. This causes the antigens to be very high in the blood of the victim. This kind of thyroid cancer showcases in 2 major types namely, Sporadic MTC and Familial MTC. Sporadic MTC affects only one lobe of the thyroid gland while Familial MTC runs in the gene of a family tree. It can be inherited by every member of a family tree.
• Anaplastic Carcinoma
This is a very rare thyroid cancer which is also referred to as “Undifferentiated Carcinoma”. It usually develops from an existing follicular or papillary cancer. It’s called undifferentiated because it doesn’t look live normal thyroid cancer when viewed under a microscope. The cancer can be very aggressive as it can easily spread to other parts of the body. It’s also very difficult to treat.
• Thyroid Lymphoma
This is another rare type of thyroid cancer that usually develops from the lymphocytes. It’s normally found in lymph nodes in a pea-size form.
• Thyroid Sarcoma
This is another kind of rare thyroid cancer that showcases in the supporting cells of the thyroid. It can be very aggressive when it begins to multiply. It can as well be very difficult to treat.
• Parathyroid Cancer
This is another kind of rare thyroid cancer that appears on the tiny glands behind the thyroid gland. The tiny glands are known as Parathyroids. They help a lot in regulating the calcium level in the human body. The cancer of the parathyroid glands are usually very rare and can also be very difficult to treat.
Thyroid Cancer Treatment
The common types of thyroid cancers discussed above are very easy to cure while the uncommon ones are usually very hard to treat. In most cases, the treatment process begins with a careful diagnosis. The cancer can be diagnosed by pinching needle into any of the thyroid region where it’s showing. The doctor will then view the samples on a microscope to detect the kind of cancer involved.
In most cases, surgery can be engaged in removing the thyroid nodule that is cancerous. The doctor may also decide to engage the process of tracheostomy in dealing with the condition. The process of chemotherapy may also be used. It all depends on what your doctor decides on.
Again, the cancer patient is expected to go through a radioactive iodine treatment after 4-6 weeks of the removal of the thyroid nodule. This is usually a very simple treatment process that involves the taking of a single iodine pill. When the treatment is applied, the patient can go home but he or she is expected to avoid contacts with other individuals and friends for some days. This prevents them from getting exposed or harmed by the radioactive materials.
One week afterwards, the patient is expected to take a thyroid hormone pill. This helps in enhancing the all important thyroid hormones that are necessary for good health. Afterwards, the patient is also expected to go for regular checkups every 6 to 12 months to make sure the cancer is properly eliminated completely.
In conclusion, thyroid cancer as we have seen is real. The common types are very much curable. It’s important you go for immediate checkup once you begin to notice some unusual signs in your thyroid gland region.