All about thyroid cancer: Causes and symptoms

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All about thyroid cancer: Causes and symptoms

What is thyroid cancer?

Cancer occurs when your body’s cells develop out of control. The part of the body from which cancer originates gives rise to its name. Cancer that starts in the thyroid gland is known as thyroid cancer.

The thyroid is a little gland at the base of the throat that resembles a butterfly. It is a component of the endocrine system, which is the bodily system that creates hormones to control bodily processes.

The hormone thyroxine is produced by the thyroid gland and it aids in the regulation of:

  • metabolism
  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • body temperature
  • body weight

Normal cells may be displaced by the aberrant cancer cells when thyroid cancer arises. Additionally, they may spread to different bodily areas.

According to Cancer Research UK (2024) there are around 3,900 new thyroid cancer cases in the UK every year. Thyroid cancer is the 20th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 1% of all new cancer cases.

Radiation exposure can be one of the factors affecting your risk of thyroid cancer. For instance, thyroid cancer cases dramatically increased following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, particularly among the region’s young children. After the Hiroshima atomic bomb detonation, similar things happened. Regular radiation exposure from X-rays or radiation therapy, particularly in young children, is seen as a risk factor.

Signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer

There are diseases and conditions that may show similar symptoms to thyroid cancer, these include:

  • a lump in your throat
  • swelling or nodules in your neck
  • neck pain, starting in front and sometimes moving up to the ears
  • hoarseness
  • voice changes that don’t go away
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trouble breathing
  • persistent cough

What are the risk factors?

A risk factor is an indication that an individual may be more susceptible to a particular disease if they have certain traits or a given medical history. While many risk factors are modifiable, others are not. However, having one or more risk factors does not guarantee that you will develop the disease that they are linked to.

Risk factors associated with thyroid cancer can include:

  • being a woman
  • having a family history of thyroid cancer
  • having a hereditary condition, such as Cowden disease or familial adenomatous polyposis
  • being overexposed to radiation in childhood, such as through X-rays or radiation therapy
  • being overexposed to pesticides
  • being overweight or having obesity

In iodine-deficient populations, eating more fish and shellfish may somewhat lower your risk of thyroid cancer, according to a 2015 study. Thyroid cancer risk may also be associated with excess iodine intake. To fully comprehend the part iodine plays in the onset of thyroid cancer, more investigation is necessary.

In around two out of ten cases of medullary thyroid carcinoma, the cause may be genetic.

Thyroid cancer types and incidence rates

Thyroid cancer is not common. Around 3,500 people in the UK are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year. Thyroid cancer can happen at any age. It is more common in women. Unfortunately, since the early 1990s, thyroid cancer incidence rates have increased by 175% in the UK. Incidence rates for thyroid cancer are projected to rise by 74% in the UK between 2014 and 2035, to 11 cases per 100,000 people by 2035.

Rather than being due to an increase in thyroid cancer cases, the increase could be explained by improvements in medical technology, the understanding of thyroid cancer among specialists, and the ability to identify the disease.

Based on how the cancer cells appear, there are three primary forms of cancer:

  • differentiated: with cells appearing similar to the regular thyroid cells.
  • medullary: with cells developing from our C cells, which are the cells that produce the hormone that regulates calcium and phosphate in your blood.
  • anaplastic: with cells appearing different from regular thyroid cells.

The different types of thyroid cancer are as follows:

Papillary Cancer

A well-differentiated type of thyroid cancer is called papillary cancer. This form of thyroid cancer is the most prevalent one. The growth of this kind of cancer cell is gradual. When they do, however, have the potential to migrate to lymph nodes. Papillary carcinoma has a low death rate and is frequently successfully treated.

Thyroid lymphoma

Thyroid cancer of this kind is uncommon. The thyroid gland’s white blood cells are where it all starts.

People who have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a chronic autoimmune illness that destroys the thyroid, are at risk of developing thyroid lymphoma.

Thyroid lymphoma may often have a favourable prognosis. The size, stage, and type of treatment of the tumour at diagnosis, as well as age, can all affect prognosis.

Follicular thyroid cancer

The second most prevalent kind of differentiated thyroid carcinoma is follicular thyroid cancer (FTC).

In areas where people consume a diet low in iodine, there is typically a greater risk of FTC. Further research is necessary to confirm the possibility that some forms of thyroid cancer, including FTC, are associated with iodine deficiency.

While untreated FTC can spread to other parts of the body, its prognosis is similar to that of papillary cancer.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

The most dangerous type of thyroid cancer is anaplastic thyroid cancer. Since the cells lack differentiation, they do not resemble typical thyroid gland cells.

Despite being uncommon, this kind of cancer can also spread to other parts of the body. It might not be discovered until it has spread since it spreads quickly. It may be harder to cure as a result. Anaplastic thyroid carcinomas are all categorised as stage IV.

Hurthle cell cancer

Five percent of thyroid cancer diagnoses are due to Hurthle cell thyroid carcinoma. This particular form of follicular thyroid carcinoma has the potential to be more aggressive than others. Additionally, there is a higher likelihood of it spreading to other bodily areas, or metastasizing.

An individual’s age, sex, cancer stage at diagnosis, tumour size, and other factors may impact their prognosis if they have Hurthle cell cancer.

Familial Medullary thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer in the medullary region is inherited and runs in families. It has an impact on both adults and children.

Sporadic medullary thyroid cancer

The C cells in your thyroid are the source of sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). These cells produce a hormone that regulates blood calcium levels.

It is estimated that between 75 and 85 percent of medullary thyroid tumours are sporadic, or not inherited. The majority of cases of sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma are in elderly persons.

The prognosis for MTC can be favourable if it is detected in stages I through III.

How to diagnose thyroid cancer?

The diagnosis of thyroid cancer may come from a physical examination or a lab test. For instance, a thyroid test may reveal a little or huge tumour. Additionally, lymph nodes may grow and become noticeable.

The following lab tests and techniques are used to diagnose thyroid cancer:

  • Fine needle or core biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure where a physician takes thyroid cells out in order to look for malignancy. This may assist in determining the cancer’s kind.
  • Thyroid function test: Thyroid hormone levels are measured by these blood tests.
  • Thyroid ultrasound: Using sound waves, an ultrasound can provide images of the thyroid gland and can be used to look for any abnormal nodules or potential cancerous areas.
  • MRIs and CT scans: To closely examine any regions where the thyroid cancer may have spread, several imaging procedures could be performed.
  • Thyroid scan: A tiny quantity of radioactive iodine is used in this imaging examination to assess thyroid function.

What is the prognosis for patients with thyroid cancer in the long run?

Early-stage thyroid cancer patients typically respond well to treatment and experience remission. There are differences in the rates of recurrence or return of different forms of thyroid cancer.

There is a 95% 5-year survival rate for thyroid cancer. According to this figure, 95% of patients with thyroid cancer will still be alive five years after their diagnosis.

Age, the size, kind, and rate of growth of the tumour, as well as whether or not it has spread to other bodily areas, all affect the more precise survival statistics.

How to prevent thyroid cancer?

Since the cause of thyroid cancer is mostly unknown, many people are at risk of developing the disease and there is now no known strategy to fully avoid it. If there is a history of medullary thyroid cancer in your family, it is advisable to consult a physician as this type of thyroid cancer can run in families. Your physician can recommend a genetic counsellor who can assess your risk of thyroid cancer.

However, if you get regular health checks, you are always reducing your risk of developing thyroid cancer because it is far more likely that you will catch it early.

Preventive health assessment with Echelon Health

Even if you’re in good health, it’s advisable to schedule regular check-ups with a healthcare specialist.

The Platinum Assessment provided by Echelon Health is notable for its capacity to identify a broad variety of illnesses and ailments. Their evaluation, which makes use of state-of-the-art technology, takes a comprehensive look at your health and includes:

  • Cancers such as breast cancer, bowel cancer, thyroid cancer, prostate cancer and more.
  • Diseases of the circulatory system including Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), cerebrovascular disease, aortic aneurysms and more.
  • Diseases of the digestive system including liver disease, Gallbladder, Biliary Tract, Pancreatic disease, Diverticular disease.

The full list of scans that are included in the Platinum Assessment is as follows:

  • Blood Test
  • ECG
  • CT Aorta
  • CT Heart
  • CT Coronary Angiogram
  • CT Chest
  • CT Abdomen
  • CT Pelvis
  • CT Virtual Colonoscopy
  • CT Bone Density
  • CT Upright Skeleton
  • MRI Brain
  • MRI Cerebral Artery Angiogram
  • MRI Carotid Artery Angiogram
  • MRI Prostate
  • Ultrasound Thyroid
  • Ultrasound Testes/Ovaries
  • Digital Mammogram
  • Full Body Mole Screen

You may take advantage of the power of early detection and state-of-the-art technology by selecting a reliable supplier such as Echelon Health. A higher quality of life can be ensured by early intervention, which can greatly improve the results for numerous diseases.

With private health check-ups, you may make an investment in your well-being, give your health top priority, and start a proactive self-care path. You can create the foundation for a healthier and happier future by taking charge of your health today. Prevention is always preferable to treatment.

Please get in touch with us if you would want to talk about any health-related issues! Our staff will be happy to assist you with any inquiries you may have or to begin the process of your health evaluation with us.