Thyroid Cancer

Types of Cancer

Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a gland within the endocrine system which works to regulate the body’s hormones by absorbing iodine found within the bloodstream and creating thyroid hormones with this. These hormones allows the body’s metabolism to remain stable. It is located below the larynx in the front of the neck. Typically, a thyroid gland has one lobe on each side of the windpipe that are joined by a small tissue strip known as the isthmus. If a person’s thyroid gland is healthy, it is generally unfindable by touch alone.  When a person does not consume enough iodine, their thyroid may become enlarged. This inflammation is known as a goiter. Typically, most American people consume the adequate amount of iodine from salt in their food, meaning that their goiter may be caused by other reasons. When the cells within the thyroid begin to rapidly change and grow uncontrollably, they may create a tumour that is either cancerous or benign. Approximately 90% of all thyroid tumours, or nodules as they are otherwise known, are benign.

Thyroid Tumours

There are two types of cells within the thyroid gland. The first is the follicular cells which work to create the production of thyroid hormones which affect the way in which the body’s metabolism operates. The metabolism is an essential bodily mechanism that controls a person’s weight loss and gain, their body temperature, the rate at which the heart is beating, the rate at which food is digested, and how quickly dying cells should be replaced. The second type of cells are c cells. C cells are responsible for the production of the hormone that helps calcium metabolism, known as calcitonin.

The Types of Thyroid Cancer

There are five main types of thyroid cancer.

  • Papillary thyroid cancer grows from follicular cells. This is typically a slow growing cancer, generally only found in one lobe (80-90% of the time) and is the most common form of thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is differentiated, which means that when examined under a microscope, the tumour looks quite similar to healthy thyroid tissue.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer grows from follicular cells. This is a typically slow growing cancer that is also a differentiated cancer. Both follicular cancer and papillary cancer are the most common types of differentiated thyroid cancer, equating to approximately 95% of all thyroid cancers. When discovered early, each of these differentiated thyroid cancers is quite curable.
  • Hurthle cell cancer or carcinoma develops from a particular type of follicular cell. This type of thyroid cancer is prone to spreading when compared to other follicular cancers, and accounts for approximately 3% of all thyroid cancers.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer or MTC grows within the C cells. MTC can also be a result of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), a genetic syndrome that accounts for approximately 25% of all MTC. Often, an MTC tumour is quite distinguishable to healthy thyroid tissue and can be controlled when diagnosed and treated before it has spread throughout the body.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer that is only found in 1% of cases. It is a fast growing cancer, meaning it can be difficult to treat and is poorly differentiated from healthy thyroid cells.

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Understanding the symptoms of thyroid cancer can be an important factor in locating cancer in its early stages. This will lead to a higher success rate of treating the tumour.  There are several possible symptoms of thyroid cancer. A patient may experience a range of these, or none at all. Thyroid cancer is often discovered during a routine examination or unintentional with an x-ray. There are other reasons that a person may experience these symptoms, so it is important to note that if these symptoms do occur, this does not solely indicate cancer. These symptoms can also be indicative of other thyroid issues or an infection.

It is important to speak with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A lump in the throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Swollen glands
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain
  • A persistent cough

If you have experienced any of the above symptoms for a number of weeks, or in a short time that you have seen a severe increase of symptoms, it is important to speak to your doctor. The doctor will run a number of tests and ask questions to find your diagnosis. If/when cancer is diagnosed, one of the major treatments will be palliative care. This care works to relieve a patient from their symptoms and helps them live a more comfortable life whilst living with cancer.