What is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer happens when abnormal cells grow together and form tumors in the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. The thyroid is responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate. Thyroid cancer is rare and is highly treatable.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of thyroid cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Thyroid cancer symptoms can be mild and non-specific and may include:
- A lump felt through the skin on the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness and other voice changes
- Pain in the neck or throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
To diagnose thyroid cancer, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: During a fine-needle biopsy, the physician inserts a long, thin needle through the skin and into the thyroid nodule, removes a sample of the suspicious tissue and studies it under the microscope to look for cancer cells.
Blood tests: A blood test can check for thyroid hormone levels to ensure the gland is functioning normally.
Genetic tests: Some people with a specific type of thyroid cancer – known as medullary thyroid cancer – have genetic changes that may be associated with other endocrine system cancers.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests can be done to see the thyroid and look for tumors. These tests can include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures of the organs and vessels around the thyroid, taken from different angles, are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. A CT scan can be used to guide a biopsy procedure.
- Ultrasound (US): An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the thyroid and other organs. Ultrasound can be used to guide a biopsy procedure.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This imaging test uses a radioactive substance called a tracer to see if cancer has spread to other areas.
Most cases of thyroid cancer result from a mutation in cell DNA, and researchers aren’t sure of the cause.
Risk factors that can contribute to thyroid cancer include:
Exposure to high levels of radiation: High-dose radiation exposure from other cancer treatment or due to nuclear power plant accidents have been shown to contribute to thyroid cancer development.
Gender: Thyroid cancer occurs more frequently in women than men.
Inherited conditions: Certain inherited conditions increase the risk of thyroid cancer, including familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia and familial adenomatous polyposis.
There is no known way to prevent thyroid cancer.
Most thyroid cancers are very curable. The earlier thyroid cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome.
Treatment and Recovery
Thyroid cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:
This is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. The surgeon may remove all or most of the thyroid and some of the lymph nodes in the neck.
High-energy radiation is directed to the thyroid to kill cancer cells. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.
When radioactive iodine is taken in liquid or capsule form, it can destroy cancer cells in the thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes.
These treatments use drugs or man-made antibodies to block the growth of cancer cells while leaving normal cells undamaged.
Thyroid Hormone Therapy
After thyroid removal, people are prescribed thyroid hormone medication to take for life. Dosages are adjusted based on follow-up blood tests.
Recovery After Surgery
Recovery after thyroid surgery will depend upon the type of procedure and your overall health. Your doctor will tell you when you may be physically active again and about what activities to avoid during recuperation.
Thyroid cancer can recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important.
Next Steps with MyChart
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