Symptoms and Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects your thyroid gland. It is often detected when a painless, noticeable lump appears on the front side of the neck.
Symptoms and Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

Last update: 16 May, 2020

Cancer is an abnormal and accelerated growth of cells in an organ. The thyroid gland is susceptible to these growths as well. This gland is in charge of secreting hormones that contribute to important processes like the metabolism, heart rhythm, body temperature, and blood pressure. Read on to learn all about the symptoms and treatment of thyroid cancer.

According to statistics from the Global Cancer Observatory, in 2018 this type of cancer made up 3.2% of new cancer cases diagnosed. Additionally, experts estimate that it caused more than 41,000 deaths worldwide that same year.

The most apparent symptom of thyroid cancer are masses, known as nodules, that appear above the gland on the neck. This malignant condition mostly occurs in patients over 60 and under 30. In fact, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society, in 2020 they will diagnose 52,890 cases just in the United States.

What are the symptoms of this type of cancer? What treatments are available? The answers to these questions are important to everyone. Like any other type of illness, early and correct diagnosis and treatment improve the prognosis. In this article we’ll answer your questions.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer usually appears as a painless and palpable mass on the front side of the neck. This mass, corresponding to a thyroid nodule, should be differentiated from a benign thyroid nodule. Benign thyroid nodules are found in about 7% of the population.

Pain is associated with other benign thyroid diseases like acute viral thyroiditis. However, some symptoms you might notice are:

  • Persistent hoarseness
  • Problems swallowing food
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Constant cough

The pressure that the mass exerts on your airways and esophagus at your neck cause these symptoms. However, in the early stages you might not notice them. In any case, it’s important to consult your doctor as soon as you experience anything abnormal.

Pinching person's swollen neck from thyroid cancer.
One sign of thyroid cancer is a palpable mass on the front side of your neck. If you notice this, it’s important to see your doctor.

Diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer

The last step of diagnosis is to differentiate malignant masses from benign ones and, therefore, determine which patients have cancer and which don’t. The main diagnostic methods are medical history, physical examination, lab tests, and fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB).

The doctor, after asking a series of questions, will then proceed to feel the area of the neck and will want to feel the thyroid gland as well. Then, they might send for a panel of lab tests and, if they feel anything abnormal, they might call for an ultrasound to try to better understand what is happening.

After confirming the nature of the mass in your neck, they might suggest and FNAB. An FNAB is the definitive diagnostic means for thyroid cancer. In this test they extract cells from the suspected area and analyze them in a lab.

The treatment for thyroid cancer is to surgically remove the mass. Before performing surgery on a patient to treat thyroid cancer, the doctor will do a procedure called a laryngoscopy.

Through this procedure, the doctor determines if the vocal cords are moving normally. During the procedure, the doctor observes the throat to examine the larynx with special mirrors or a special tube with a light and lens on the end.

They do a laryngoscopy because of the risk of damage to the vocal cords during surgery. After the surgery and evaluation, your doctor might then suggest other complementary treatments like radiation therapy.

Doctor doing and ultrasound of a woman's thyroid.
Once doctors detect thyroid cancer, they will operate to remove the mass.

What should you remember?

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland. This type of cancer has a high survival rate and makes up about 3.2% of all cancer cases in the world. It’s usually diagnosed by identifying a painless mass in the front part of the neck, and to treat it you must surgically remove the mass.

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