Possible Signs of Thyroid Cancer in Women

Although neck lumps can be a symptom of thyroid cancer, it should be borne in mind that not all lumps that form in this area are malignant. In fact, according to the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC), only one in 20 lumps turn out to be malignant.
Possible Signs of Thyroid Cancer in Women
Nelton Abdon Ramos Rojas

Written and verified by the doctor Nelton Abdon Ramos Rojas.

Last update: 11 June, 2022

Thyroid cancer is a disease that doesn’t usually manifest signs or symptoms in its early stages. Therefore, it isn’t easy to detect until it begins to grow. In fact, one of the first most noticeable symptoms is neck lumps that can be felt under the skin.

In addition, the sufferer may experience throat and neck pain, difficulty swallowing and breathing, a cough, hoarseness, and other troublesome symptoms we’ll mention below.

The thyroid gland – The gland that regulates metabolism and more

This gland doesn’t only regulate metabolism. In fact, experts at the Spanish Association of Thyroid Cancer explain that:

“The function of follicular cells and the thyroid gland is to produce, store, and release thyroid hormones into the blood, also known as T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). They’re very similar to each other and their basic compound is thyroxine.”

These hormones are essential because they help control and perform various functions. When the body has adequate TSH, T3, and T4 levels, the organs have energy and can function properly and fulfill various processes, even at the cognitive level.

If the thyroid shows increased activity, it’s known as hyperthyroidism. On the contrary, if its activity decreases, it’s known as hypothyroidism.

You might also be interested to read: 3 Easy Ways to Cope with Hypothyroidism

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is more common in women over 40. Nevertheless, it can also affect men.

When there’s an abnormal malignant cell growth in the thyroid, the gland stops working properly and the body loses its balance. This affects the health of the individual.

The causes of the disease are still unknown. However, experts have determined certain risk factors:

  • Being a woman.
  • Being over 40.
  • Having been exposed to elevated radiation levels during childhood.
  • Having a family history of thyroid cancer.

In addition, women are more at risk for thyroid cancer when they’re going through menopause or are post-menopausal.

Symptoms

According to the American Cancer Society, the “telltale” symptoms that can indicate thyroid cancer are:

  • Hoarseness.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • A lump on the neck.
  • Persistent throat and neck pain.
  • Swollen neck lymph nodes.
  • Difficulty swallowing (this usually happens when the lump is large).

Note: If you’re suffering from one or many of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your doctor. You should also bear in mind that the fact that you’re suffering from hoarseness (or any other symptom) doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer.

Types of thyroid cancer

The treatment and prognosis vary depending on the type of thyroid cancer.

Papillary carcinoma

This is the most common type (70 percent of all cases). Women with a history of cervical irradiation are at a higher risk. The tumor is clearly defined and may have visible calcifications.

In patients in the advanced stages of this type of thyroid cancer, it may metastasize to the cervical nodes. Nodule growth is slow and painless.

Follicular carcinoma

This is the second most common type, which manifests in people who suffer from goiters and, particularly, those over 50 years old. The tumor may grow to be as large as the thyroid itself and is often difficult to detect.

It can spread through the blood and metastasize in the lungs and bones. It also spreads via the lymphatic system. The nodules are painless and hard to the touch.

Anaplastic carcinoma

This type of cancer manifests in patients over the age of 65 who’ve usually had prior problems with goiters or papillary and follicular carcinomas. The tumor appears as a lump that invades the entire gland and can metastasize through the lymphatic system. It’s painful, grows extremely quickly, and is hard to the touch.

Medullary carcinoma

Medullary carcinoma can metastasize early on through the lymphatic and circulatory systems. It’s common in women, especially those over 50. In some cases, this cancer can be hereditary. It’s easy to detect during a normal histological exam.

Thyroid lymphoma

This cancer begins in cells known as lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. It grows extremely slowly and occurs more commonly in older women who’ve had other thyroid-related illnesses, such as Hashimoto’s disease.

Medical tests to detect thyroid cancer

The diagnostic tests doctors run to detect possible thyroid cancer are:

Ultrasounds

They allow the doctor to observe the entire neck region (including the thyroid) for nodules or lumps. If they detect any, they’ll be able to determine whether they’re solid or filled with liquid. Cysts in the thyroid area aren’t necessarily cancerous. As a matter of fact, most of the time, they’re benign.

Biopsy

A needle biopsy is performed by taking a small tissue sample from the nodule or cyst, which is then examined in a pathology lab. The doctor may use an ultrasound to guide the needle and the patient is given pain medication to numb the area. This particular test is performed only if a nodule has been detected.

Computed tomography (CT Scan)

This test not only examines the neck area. It also examines the chest region in search of signs of cancer elsewhere in the body, particularly the lungs. Thus, it determines whether the cancer has spread to any other soft tissues.

In addition to performing diagnostic tests, certain follow-up tests are also prescribed if something is detected in the patient.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.