September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month
September’s monthly health awareness blog is about thyroid cancer. According to the CDC, thyroid cancer is uncommon important to observe Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Recently, rates of thyroid cancer have trended upward. For this reason, today’s blog points out the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer, prognosis, and treatment options. But first, let’s talk about what the thyroid does.
What Is the Function of the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid sits front and center at the base of the neck. It is a gland that regulates functions from metabolism to heart rate. This gland is a crucial part of the endocrine system because it controls hormones. Hormones are responsible for regulating things such as metabolism, puberty, growth, and more. The thyroid gland produces two hormones: T3 and T4. T3 and T4 work together to control heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and metabolism. The pituitary gland, located in the brain, tells the thyroid how much T3 and T4 to secrete. The pituitary acts as command central for the endocrine system. Each part of the endocrine system is important to maintaining body functions.
What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer does not typically product symptoms in the early stages. As the cancer progresses, signs may show in the neck. Because the thyroid is located so close to the surface in the neck, a bump or swelling may appear. A bump or swelling in the area around your thyroid, however, does not mean it is cancer. In fact, thyroid growths are very common. These growths are called thyroid nodules. Up to 75% of thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous). Only around five to ten percent of biopsied nodules are malignant (cancerous). Notice that the math doesn’t quite add up. There is also a third percentage of biopsied thyroid nodules that are indeterminate. Indeterminate thyroid nodules means that the results of the biopsy are inconclusive. This percentage is small.
Know More About Thyroid Nodules During Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month
When nodules become large enough they may constrict the airway and can cause trouble breathing. It can also cause a sensation of tightness in the neck. Thyroid nodules may also cause difficulty swallowing or frequent throat clearing. Since the thyroid is so close to the larynx (voice box), thyroid nodules can cause changes to the sound of the voice. Usually, the voice sounds hoarse. A persistent cough without any signs of a cold can also signal thyroid cancer. Pain or tenderness in the neck area around the thyroid may be a sign of thyroid nodules.
What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
Cancer occurs when an abnormal cell develops, and then continues to divide uncontrollably. These abnormal cells grow into a mass called a tumor. Cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA. Often, cells correct abnormal mutations. Sometimes, though, a mutation will grow and multiply before the body can correct it. This is how cancer begins. Mutations are either inherited, caused by carcinogens, or random. Carcinogens are substances that can cause cancer. There is no clear link between specific carcinogens and thyroid cancer. The exact cause of thyroid cancer is unclear.
Five Different Kinds of Thyroid Cancer
There are five different kinds of thyroid cancer. First, is papillary thyroid cancer, and it is the most common. Typically, it occurs in people between the ages of 30 and 50. Second, is follicular thyroid cancer. It is usually found in people over 50. One form of follicular thyroid cancer is called Hurthle cell cancer. Hurthle cell cancer is more aggressive and dangerous than normal follicular thyroid cancer. Third, is medullary thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer can be caused by genetics, though the genetic component is rare. Fourth, is anaplastic thyroid cancer. This type of cancer is uncommon and grows very fast and can be harder to treat than other types of thyroid cancer. Lastly, there is thyroid lymphoma. Thyroid lymphoma is also uncommon and grows rapidly and is usually found in older people.
What Are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
During Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, we learn a few important things. First, women are much more likely than men to develop thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. Second, women are more than twice as likely to develop thyroid cancer. Further, approximately 35,000 women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, as opposed to only 12,000 men. Other risk factors for thyroid cancer include radiation exposure and genetic syndromes. The radiation exposure needs to be high to cause thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer can be caused by previous radiation therapy for cancer or nuclear plant disasters. Genetic syndromes can also increase the risk for thyroid cancer. They are called multiple endocrine neoplasia and familial medullary thyroid cancer.
How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?
There are a few ways to diagnose thyroid cancer. The two most common ways to screen for it are through a physical exam and routine blood tests. For example, routine blood tests show whether the thyroid is functioning properly. If blood work comes back abnormal, the doctor will determine the cause. Since the thyroid is at the base of the neck, doctors can feel for any large nodules. Therefore, if the doctor feels anything unusual, they will typically send the patient for a thyroid ultrasound. Further, if the doctor finds thyroid nodules, and are a certain size, he or she may order something called an FNA. An FNA is a fine needle biopsy. Using a guide ultrasound, the needle is inserted into the nodule to collect tissue samples. Samples are sent to be tested for cancer. Again, most nodules are not cancerous.
How is This Type of Cancer Treated?
Luckily, most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured. There are three surgical options to treat thyroid cancer. The first option is called a thyroidectomy. A thyroidectomy is the complete removal of the thyroid. Thyroidectomy is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. Sometimes, doctors choose to leave the parathyroid glands. Parathyroid glands are located around the back of the thyroid. This procedure is called a near-total thyroidectomy.
In cases where the thyroid cancer is contained, doctors may choose to do a thyroid lobectomy. A thyroid lobectomy is when only the affected portion of the thyroid is removed. The doctor may remove the lymph nodes in the neck if they are enlarged or show signs of cancer. They are then sent to pathology to test for cancer.
After treating thyroid cancer, the patient will likely need some combination of therapy. These therapies treat issues caused by thyroid removal and prevent cancer from returning. When the thyroid is removed, it is no longer there to produce vital hormones. These hormones are responsible for critical body functions. The hormones must be introduced into the body artificially if the body cannot produce them. Thyroid hormone therapy is a lifelong necessity.
The Purpose of Hormone Therapy
Thyroid hormone therapy serves two purposes. First, it replaces the missing hormones from having the thyroid removed. Second, it is to prevent TSH production, which can cause cancer cells that remain to grow. Another therapy used after thyroid removal is radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine is given to kill any cancer left behind in the thyroidectomy. Radioactive iodine treatment is not a longterm therapy. It is usually a short course given by pill or liquid.
Radiation and Therapy
Traditional radiation therapy is used to treat many types of cancer. It is sometimes used in combination with chemotherapy. Radiation is a high intensity beam that pinpoints specific parts of the body to target cancer. Radiation therapy is a longer course of treatment than radioactive iodine and lasts about a month and a half.
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for other types of cancer, but not thyroid cancer. This is because other treatment methods are more effective and less harmful. Some people are unable to undergo surgery, or unable to take radioactive iodine. These people may be candidates for chemotherapy, usually combined with radiation therapy.
When thyroid cancer affects hard to reach areas, doctors may suggest alcohol ablation. Alcohol ablation is ideal for inaccessible small areas affected by thyroid cancer. The doctor will use an ultrasound machine to guide a needle to the right spot for injection. Once the target area is reached, alcohol is injected to kill the surrounding cancer cells. This type of therapy may be e a good option for recurrent thyroid cancer.
What Does Life After Thyroid Cancer Look Like?
All in all, many people achieve full remission from thyroid cancer. Afterward, people may experience some anxiety about the cancer returning. This is a natural reaction to a cancer ordeal. Many cancer patients experience this concern after completing treatment. Focusing on the present can help to relieve anxiety about the future.
After finishing treatment, the doctor will regularly perform follow up tests. These tests will make sure the cancer has not come back or spread to other areas of the body. Screening is an important part of post-cancer care. The frequency will lessen as time goes on and scans continue to come back normal.
How to Support Someone Going Through Cancer Treatment?
Frequently, it is often difficult to know exactly what to say or do to best support someone facing a health crisis. Sometimes, people get uncomfortable because they don’t know what to say. Sometimes, people wonder if sending flowers or food is appropriate. What one person finds comforting may not be comforting to another. For example, one person may use humor to get through it. Another may feel that making light of the situation is disrespectful. One thing that always comes across as supportive is wearing an awareness ribbon in the cancer patient’s honor. It is a silent show of support, and a visual reminder that the patient is not alone. Personalized Cause® is proud to carry awareness ribbons for thyroid cancer.