What Is Thyroid Cancer?

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What Is Thyroid Cancer?

What Is Thyroid Cancer?

THYROID is a gland, which is a small organ, located in the front part of the neck around the windpipe called TRACHEA. Thyroid creates and produces hormones in our body, and it plays an important role in different systems of our body like it regulates our heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. When the thyroid hormone makes too much or less hormones, then thyroid is caused. 

If the body makes too much of thyroid hormone, it is called HYPERTHYROIDISM, and when the body produces too little thyroid hormone, it is known as HYPOTHYROIDISM. Both the thyroids are dangerous and need proper treatment. Thyroid cancers include Papillary, Follicular, Medullary and Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer.

Causes of Thyroid Cancer:

  • The actual cause is not yet known, what really causes thyroid cancer,
  • It starts when the cells in our thyroid undergo some genetic changes, which is also known as mutations.
  •  When this happens, the cells grow or multiply very fast.
  • These cells do not die like normal cells.
  • They gather and form a tumor.
  • These abnormal cells can affect the nearby tissue and spread to the other parts of the body.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer:

  1. The thyroid symptoms are not seen in the initial stages, as the thyroid cancer grows, the symptoms are seen, like:
  2. A lump or nodule on the neck that can be felt.
  3. Voices changes and hoarseness increases.
  4. Difficult in swallowing.
  5. Pain starts in the neck and throat.
  6. Neck region, the lymph nodes swell.

Stages of Cancer

The stages of thyroid cancer are known as the “TNM” system. This system is based on three things:

  1. T—based on the size of the tumor and if has spread to the other parts of the body.
  2. N—if it has spread to the lymph nodes?
  3. M—has the cancer spread or metastasised to the lungs, liver and bones?

After the tests are done, the doctor and the type of thyroid cancer is identified, the doctor adds a number to each stage of the letter. Higher the number, that advanced is cancer. For the most advanced cases, the letters, “A” “B” AND “C” are also used. Based on the stage of thyroid cancer, they are staged into types.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

According to the kind of cells that are found in the tumor, thyroid cancer is classified. After the type of cancer is determined the treatment starts. The types are:

  • PAPILLARY THYROID CANCER: Follicular cells produce and store thyroid hormones. From here, papillary thyroid cancer begins. Generally, it can occur at any age, but most people in the age group from 30 to 50 are affected. Both Papillary thyroid cancer and Follicular thyroid cancer are known together as Differentiated thyroid cancer.

          STAGE I: Any size, may have spread to the nearby tissue or lymph nodes.

          STAGE II: Any size not only lymph nodes but has spread to the lungs or bones.

  • FOLLICULAR THYROID CANCER: This cancer starts in the follicular cells of the thyroid. 50 years of age group are affected. It is rare and aggressive.

         STAGE I & STAGE II & STAGE III: Cancer is in the thyroid, and the tumor is 2 cms. Or more than 2cms. Less than 4cms. Larger                 than 4cms. Respectively.

         If it is stage IV means cancer has spread and the doctor assigns the letters A, B and C.

  • ANAPLASTIC THYROID CANCER: This type is also rare and also begins in the follicular cells. People who are 60 or above are affected by it. It grows quickly and is difficult to treat. 

         STAGE IVA, IV AND IVC: Cancer is in the thyroid, beyond the lymph nodes and to the lungs and bones respectively.

  • MEDULLARY THYROID CANCER: This cancer begins in the thyroid cells itself known as C cells, and they produce hormone Calcitonin. This cancer occurs when calcitonin levels increase in the blood, and it is seen at an early stage itself. Some genetic syndromes increase this cancer, and it is not a common one.

          STAGES I, II, III & IV: Staged according to the size and the area it has spread.

  • Other rare thyroid cancers: These cancers also start in the thyroid are __Thyroid Lymphoma—this starts in the immune system of the thyroid cells and Thyroid Sarcoma__  this starts in the connective tissue cells of the thyroid.

Risk Factors:

  1. WOMEN: Women are more affected with thyroid cancer than men.
  2. EXPOSURE TO RADIATION:  When treatment to neck and head through radiation therapy is given, thyroid cancer may start.
  3. GENETIC SYNDROMES:  Certain inherited genetic syndrome causes thyroid cancer.


Even if the thyroid is removed and the cancer cells have spread beyond the thyroid, it can return. This happens if the cancer cells have spread beyond the thyroid before the removal.

So it can come back:

  • In the lymph nodes of the neck.
  • During surgery if small pieces of thyroid tissue are left behind.
  • It can also come back in the lungs and bones.

Every now and then the treating doctor can ask for blood tests and scans to check if thyroid cancer has come back even after treatment.  Thyroid cancer can always be treated.

Prevention of Thyroid Cancer:

  • People who live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, medication is provided, and it has to be used to protect themselves from radiation.
  • People, i.e. adults and children with inherited gene mutation, are at risk to develop this cancer so, they need to consult a genetic counsellor.

Treatment for Thyroid Cancer:

  1. Surgery: depending on the size and location of the tumor the entire thyroid gland is removed
  2. Radioactive Iodine Therapy: The iodine is sent to the thyroid tissue, and the radiation destroys the thyroid gland
  3. Thyroid Hormone Therapy: After the thyroid glands are removed pills are given to stop the leftover cells from growing and returning
  4. External Beam Radiation Therapy: to destroy the cancer cells
  5. Chemotherapy: pills, shots or intravenous chemo treatment
  6. Targeted Drug Therapy it is a new treatment that targets only certain parts of the cancer cells and stops the growth
  7. Almost all thyroid cancers can be cured if they have not spread to the other parts of the body. In case it can’t be treated. Generally, the tumor can be removed or destroyed, so that it doesn’t spread, grow or return.

Awareness of Thyroid Cancer:

Though people are aware of the disease known as Thyroid, they do not know about Thyroid Cancer. Especially women should be educated about it so that early detection can help to treat better. So a greater effort by the physicians is necessary to increase the level of awareness among the patients about Thyroid Cancer.