Possible Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer in Women

· May 1, 2016
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland, and while it’s not very large, it can have a major impact on your entire body. Although both men and women can suffer from thyroid cancer, it’s more common in women.

A large percentage of the population suffers from thyroid problems, and most of them are women.

This important gland can cause your metabolism to become unbalanced, which can result in various diseases like thyroid cancer. Knowing all the symptoms can help you recognize this condition in time to treat it.

What You Should Know About Your Thyroid

This gland that regulates a lot of your body’s functions.

For one thing, it’s responsible for producing hormones like thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which are involved in nearly everything that happens within your body. Changes in your thyroid translate directly into changes in your body.

If your thyroid is overactive, it’s known as hyperthyroidism. Some common symptoms of this problem are:

  • Restlessness
  • Overheating
  • Excessive appetite
  • Weight loss

If your thyroid is less active than it should be, it’s called hypothyroidism. Some of the signs of this are:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle aches
  • Hair loss

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  • Drowsiness
  • Memory loss
  • Constipation
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Loss of hearing
Woman experiencing thyroid paid

Hypothyroidism typically affects women over 40 years old. Treatment involves eating a diet that’s rich in iodine, particularly seafood.

What is Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid cancer is not very common and occurs when a tumor develops in the neck region.

In most cases, the correct treatment will result in a benign diagnosis. It’s important that diagnosis be very accurate, however.

Women are more at risk for thyroid cancer when they are going through menopause, or are post-menopausal. The “telltale” symptoms that can indicate thyroid cancer are:

  • A lump on the neck (similar to an Adam’s apple)
  • Frequent pain in the ears
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • A persistently sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing (odynophagia)
  • Trouble breathing normally
  • Asthma
  • Hoarseness
  • Slurred speech
  • Coughing unrelated to another health condition

Main Causes of Thyroid Cancer

Woman being checked for thyroid cancer

  • Exposure to radiation during childhood. (The incidence of tumors increases with the amount of radiation received.)
  • High levels of the TSH hormone, especially in people with goiters.
  • Genetics (if someone in your family has suffered from thyroid cancer.)
  • Hashimoto’s disease.
  • Being 40 years or older in women, or 70 and older in men.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

There are five different kinds of thyroid cancer:

Papillary Carcinoma

This is the most common type (70% of all cases) and women who have had 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 appears 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 but is often difficult to detect.

It can spread through the blood system, 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

Cancerous cells

Only 10% of people who have thyroid cancer have anaplastic carcinoma. It is a highly malignant type of cancer that appears in patients over the age of 65, who have usually had prior problems with goiters or papillary and follicular carcinomas.

This tumor appears as a mass that invades the entire gland and can metastasize through the lymphatic system. It’s painful, grows very quickly, and is hard to the touch.

Medullary Carcinoma

This type of thyroid cancer has a different origin from the rest and is easy to spot during a normal histological exam.

It can develop at any age and most commonly affects women, though the risk factor increases after 50 years of age.

Medullary carcinoma can metastasize early on through the lymphatic and circulatory systems. In some cases, this cancer can be hereditary.

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Thyroid Lymphoma

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

Tests to Detect Thyroid Cancer

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we outlined above, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with an endocrinologist.

The doctor can run some diagnostic tests and examine you to determine whether or not you have thyroid cancer. These are the most common screening methods:

Ultrasounds

Woman getting an ultrasound done on her thyroids

During this ultrasound, your doctor will examine your entire neck region (which includes the thyroid) for nodules or lumps. If the doctor detects any, he or she will be able to determine whether they’re solid in form, or filled with liquid.

Cysts in the thyroid area aren’t necessarily cancerous. 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. Your doctor will use an ultrasound to guide the needle, and you’ll be given a topical pain medication to numb the area.

This test only occurs if a nodule has been detected.

Computed Tomography (CT Scan)

Also known as an x-ray computed tomography, or a CT scan, this test not only examines your neck area. It also looks at the chest region in search of signs of cancer elsewhere in the body, and particularly the lungs.

The goal is to determine whether cancer has spread to any other soft tissues.

The Relationship Between Thyroid Cancer, Women, and Reproduction

Doctor examining a woman's thyroids

Studies show that women who have given birth in the last five years are more likely to suffer from thyroid papillary cancer.

That’s because this gland produces more hormones when you’re pregnant, which can have lasting consequences well into the future. Your risk increases even more if you have multiple pregnancies within a short timespan.