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 and can result in various diseases like thyroid cancer.
Knowing all the symptoms can help you recognize the danger of the situation.
What to know about your thyroid
This is a gland that regulates many of the body’s functions. 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:
- Excessive appetite
- Weight loss
If your thyroid is less active than it should be, it’s called hypothyroidism. Some of the signs are:
- Weight gain
- Muscle aches
- Hair loss
- Memory loss
- Intolerance to cold
- Loss of hearing
Want to know more? Read 3 Easy Ways to Cope with Hypothyroidism
The what, how and why of 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 your Adam’s apple)
- Frequent pain in the ears
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- A persistent sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing (odynophagia)
- Trouble breathing normally
- Slurred speech
- Coughing unrelated to another health condition
What are the main causes of thyroid cancer?
- Exposure to radiation during childhood (the incidence of tumors increases with the amount of radiation received)
- High levels of TSH hormone, especially in people with goiters
- Heredity (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
There are five types of thyroid cancer:
This is the most common type (70% of all cases) and women who have had a history of cervical irradiation are at especially high risk. The tumor is clearly defined and may have calcifications present.
In patients with the advanced stages of this type of thyroid cancer, it may metastasize to the cervical nodes. Nodule growth is slow and painless.
This is the second most common type, which appears in people who suffer from goiters, particularly 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 carcinomaOnly 10% of people who have thyroid cancer have anaplastic carcinoma. It is a highly malignant type that appears in patients over the age of 65, who have usually had prior problems with goiters or papillary and follicular carcinomas.
This tumor presents as a mass that invades the entire gland. It can metastasize through the lymphatic system. It’s painful, grows very quickly, and is hard to the touch.
This type of thyroid cancer has an origin that is different from the rest. It’s easy to spot during a normal histological exam. It can develop at any age and most commonly affects women, while the risk increases after 50 years of age.
Medullary carcinoma can metastasize early on through the lymphatic and circulatory systems. In come cases, the occurrence of this cancer is hereditary.
This cancer begins in cells known as lymphocytes, which form part of the body’s immune system. Its growth is very slow 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, who can run some diagnostic tests and examine you to determine whether or not you have thyroid cancer. The most common screening methods are:
Ultrasound scanDuring an ultrasound, your doctor will examine your entire neck region (which includes the thyroid) for nodules or lumps. If they are detected, they will be able to determine whether they’re solid in form, or filled with liquid. Cysts found in the thyroid area aren’t necessarily cancerous – most frequently, they are benign.
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 ultrasound to guide the needle, and you’ll be given a topical pain medication to numb the area.
This test is only performed if a nodule has been detected.
Computed tomography (CT)
Also known as X-ray computed tomography, or a CT scan, this test not only examines your neck area, but also the chest region to search for signs of cancer elsewhere in the body, particularly the lungs.
The goal is to determine whether the cancer has spread to any other soft tissues.
The relationship between thyroid cancer, women, and reproductionStudies 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.