There are a few visible symptoms of thyroid cancer, and being aware of what these are can potentially save your life. A lot of the discomfort that concerns your neck and organs are usual signs that you may have thyroid cancer.
Find out which signs and symptoms to look out for to know if it’s time to consult your doctor.
In this article:
- What Is Thyroid Cancer?
- What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
- What Are the Types of Thyroid Cancer?
- What Are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
- How Is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?
- Are There Any Complications of Thyroid Cancer?
- Can You Detect Thyroid Cancer Early?
- What Are the Different Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer?
- How to Prevent Thyroid Cancer
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer You Should Know
What Is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer occurs when the gland’s cells start to grow abnormally, and these cells include:
- C cells
- Follicular cells
- Stromal cells
Various types of cancer can develop from different thyroid cells. It’s important to know which type of cells are affected because they also influence how serious the condition can develop and which thyroid cancer treatment should be used.
Tumors and other abnormal growths in the thyroid can develop, but most of them are non-cancerous. Cancerous cells can be alarming, though, because they can spread to other parts and tissues of the body.
What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
There are no clear thyroid cancer causes, but genetics may play a role as with other diseases.
Cancer can make thyroid cells develop and multiply quickly and remove their ability to die. The abnormal cells that accumulate develop into a tumor and can spread to nearby parts of the body.
And so, the symptoms of thyroid cancer may manifest in other systems or locally, like:
1. Swollen Lymph Node
One of the very first signs of thyroid cancer is having swollen lymph nodes along your neck where the thyroid gland is. Enlarged lymph nodes are usually indicators of an infection in your body.
If your lymph node continues to swell, you should consult your doctor about a thyroid biopsy and other thyroid tests.
2. Enlarged Neck with Noticeable Lump
Sometimes, it can be difficult to notice a swollen lymph node, but an enlarged neck with a noticeable lump at the front of your neck may be a symptom of thyroid cancer. This may also be a thyroid lump and can be one of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism or an underactive thyroid.
You may also feel this lump when you’re swallowing.
3. Breathing Difficulty
Due to the lump in your neck, you’re more than likely to experience breathing difficulty. The thyroid gland is on top of your windpipe or trachea, and your thyroid lump may be putting pressure on it as the thyroid cancer continues to develop.
4. A Hard Time Swallowing
When your thyroid lump continues to get bigger, you’ll also start having a hard time swallowing. Your esophagus is located below your windpipe, and the pressure of the thyroid lump against it may also put pressure on your esophagus.
5. Having a Hoarse Voice
Another organ your thyroid gland is very close to is your larynx or voice box. The proximity of your developing thyroid lump may also press against your voice box and cause some hoarseness or changes in your voice, but this is one of the most unusual symptoms of thyroid cancer.
6. Persistent Coughing
Of course, not all coughs are symptoms of thyroid cancer. Some coughs may be due to respiratory problems or a simple cold.
There’s no harm in getting your cough checked, especially if it continues despite medication. Persistent and unusual coughing may be due to a thyroid lump in your neck.
7. Constant Pain in Your Neck
Similar to a persistent cough, if your neck or throat continues to be in pain for more than a few weeks, it may be time to see your doctor. Your thyroid lump and swollen lymph nodes may be putting stress on your neck and throat.
What Are the Types of Thyroid Cancer?
- Thyroid lymphoma – This is a rare form of the condition that starts with the immune system cells in the thyroid and can grow rapidly. Older adults usually experience thyroid lymphoma.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer – This type is also rare, grows very fast, and is difficult to cure. It occurs because of a mutation of a different, less aggressive form of thyroid cancer or a result of various genetic changes.
- Medullary thyroid cancer – It starts in the C cells that release the calcitonin hormone. Increased levels of calcitonin can indicate an early stage of medullary thyroid cancer.
- Follicular thyroid cancer – It begins in the follicular cells and typically affects people ages 50 years and above.
- Papillary thyroid cancer – This is the most common type of thyroid cancer and starts in the follicular cells. It can affect people of any age but usually occurs in individuals between 30-50 years.
- Hurthle cell carcinoma – It’s another type of rare thyroid cancer that can be more aggressive than the other types.
Calcitonin Definition: A hormone responsible for regulating phosphate and calcium levels in the blood
What Are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
The following are factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition:
- Inherited genetic syndromes – There are certain inherited genetic syndromes that you might want to check, such as endocrine neoplasia and familial medullary thyroid cancer.
- High radiation exposure – You might want to avoid exposing yourself to frequent radiation treatments.
- Being female – Thyroid cancer mostly affects women than men.
How Is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?
These procedures may be conducted by your physician to check for the development of the condition:
- Genetic testing – Doctors may recommend genetic testing for people who have a family history of thyroid cancer.
- Imaging tests – You may undergo computerized tomography (CT) to help your doctor determine the progress of thyroid cancer.
- Thyroid tissue sample through needle biopsy – Your doctor may also need to get a sample of your thyroid tissue through fine needle aspiration to check for cancer cells.
- Blood tests – Several blood tests also help doctors know if your thyroid gland is functioning properly.
- Physical examination – Doctors also check for the physical changes of your thyroid and ask you questions about some risk factors like exposure to radiation.
Are There Any Complications of Thyroid Cancer?
Despite having treatment, thyroid cancer can come back with active blood vessels, even if you had the organ removed. This happens when cancer spreads to other parts of the body or when there are microscopic cancerous cells left after surgery.
The recurrence can be treated, though. Your doctor may perform periodic blood tests or recommend thyroid scans to see signs of the condition’s recurrence.
Can You Detect Thyroid Cancer Early?
Many cases can be detected at the early thyroid cancer stages. The usual scenario is many thyroid cancer patients know the condition when they visit their doctor for a checkup for nodules and lumps in the neck.
Others know they have thyroid cancer after doing the routine physical examination or if they undergo an ultrasound or a CT scan.
What Are the Different Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer?
The treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type and stage of the condition. Most thyroid cancer cases are curable with treatment, and these are as follows:
- Thyroid surgery – Surgeons may remove a portion of the thyroid gland (lobectomy) or the entire organ, depending on the severity.
- Targeted drug therapy – This attacks vulnerabilities in your cancer cells and uses drugs like Vandetanib (Caprelsa), Sorafenib (Nexavar), and Cabozantinib (Cometriq).
- Alcohol ablation – It involves injecting alcohol into smaller thyroid cancer cells to kill them.
- Chemotherapy – It uses chemicals to kill cancer cells and is often given as a vein infusion.
- Eternal radiation therapy – Doctors utilize this treatment if a patient is not able to undergo surgery. This therapy uses high-energy beams to target cancer cells in the thyroid.
- Radioactive iodine treatment – It uses huge doses of iodine that are radioactive to destroy healthy thyroid tissue not removed during surgery.
- Thyroid hormone therapy – This supplies the missing hormones your thyroid cannot produce and suppresses the thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH that may provide room for cancer cells to grow.
- Palliative care – It’s specialized care that gives relief from symptoms of thyroid cancer and other types of illnesses. Specialists work with other doctors, your family, and you for the extra care that may help your ongoing treatment.
How to Prevent Thyroid Cancer
Because doctors are not sure as to why cancerous thyroid develops in the first place, there is no definite way you can avoid thyroid cancer. But, you can be mindful if your family background has an inherited gene mutation that can increase the risk of the condition and another thyroid disease.
If this is the case, you may want to check with your doctor as to what you should do about it.
For those who live near a nuclear power plant, you may have to secure a medication that can inhibit the radiation effects of the power plant on your thyroid. You can also contact your local emergency management department for some government medical assistance regarding this matter.
Feeling pain is your body’s simplest way of telling you there’s something wrong, and it’s just one of the several symptoms of thyroid cancer you should watch out for. Your swollen lymph node and thyroid lump may be putting pressure on the other organs along your neck and causing you discomfort and other thyroid problems.
These signs may be small pains and disturbances, but early detection of thyroid cancer may help in a faster and more successful recovery.
Do you know someone who is diagnosed with thyroid cancer? What are the signs and symptoms they are experiencing? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 5, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.