Celebrating Thyroid Cancer Awareness
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, September marks an opportunity to discuss the importance of thyroid cancer, its related symptoms, the importance of testing, and the options that a team of thyroid surgical oncologists provides to their patients.
Before jumping into the options of surgical oncology at The Surgical Clinic, let’s discuss what the thyroid is and why it’s important.
What Is The Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the front base of your neck–right below your larynx. The thyroid is part of the endocrine system and produces the T-3 and T-4 hormones that regulate several key functions of the body.
These hormones influence key functions such as
- Weight gain and weight loss
- Cholesterol levels
- Women’s menstrual cycles
- The speed of your heart rate
- How fast food is digested
- Body temperature
- Brain development
- The way your muscles contract
- How quickly your body replaces dying cells
Different Types of Thyroid Cancer
Papillary Thyroid Cancer
This is the most common type of thyroid cancer for people between the ages of 30-50. Most of these cancers are usually small and typically respond well to treatment.
Follicular Thyroid Cancer
This type of thyroid cancer is most common in people older than age 50. Follicular thyroid cancer is also rather rare and doesn’t typically spread to the lymph nodes. However, follicular cancer can still spread to other areas of the body. Usually, it spreads to the lungs or the bones.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is very rare and usually only occurs in people aged 60 or older. This type of cancer is agressive but can be slowed down with treatment.
How Would I Know If I Have Thyroid Cancer?
At the early stages of thyroid cancer, there are very few discernable signs. This is why it’s essential to get a cancer screening after you reach an age where your risk increases. However, there are some early signs of cancer that you might be able to notice.
- Early signs of thyroid cancer
- Swelling or a lump on the neck
- Hoarse voice, or general changes to your voice
- Trouble swallowing
- Pain in the throat
- Neck pain
- Swelling in the lymph nodes
How Do Doctors Test for Thyroid Cancer?
One of the most reliable and most frequently used methods for testing thyroid cancer is be performing a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure where your doctor will remove a small sample of the diseased tissue and then perform tests on the sample in order to determine the presence of the disease.
Biopsies can also be performed with minimally invasive techniques to reduce pain and recovery time.
Iodine Imaging Tests
These imaging tests use special iodine-based dyes that interact with x-rays and scanning technology in order to find areas that are precancerous or cancerous. Specialists usually use this type of diagnostic test to detect signs and traces of cancer in your bloodstream.
Other Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis Methods
- Blood tests
- CT scans
- Genetic tests
Is Thyroid Cancer The Same As A Goiter?
A goiter is a benign (non-cancerous) growth of the thyroid gland. In contrast, thyroid cancer occurs when there is harmful malignant growth of the thyroid tissue.
Some symptoms may be the same, such as swelling, coughing, and difficulty swallowing.
What Are The Stages Of Thyroid Cancer?
When you come to The Surgical Clinic’s team of surgical oncologists, they will work with the rest of your care team to identify which stage your cancer falls into. The range of levels ranges from 1 to 4, with 1 being the stage where your cancer is most likely to respond to treatments that work best at earlier stages. However, both papillary anf ollicular thyroid cancer have their own set of stages that need to be considered.
Stages are also determined by the size of the cancer, if cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and if cancer has spread to organs and tissues further away in the body.
There are many other factors that go into the staging of cancer, so consult with your care team to determine the stage that you’re at.
Differentiated Thyroid Cancer Staging
Follicular Or Papillary Thyroid Cancer In People Younger Than 55
Any thyroid tumor that appears without spread to the lymph nodes and has not spread to distant organs or tissue.
Any thyroid tumor that occurs with metastasis, regardless of it spreadying to the lymph nodes or not.
Follicular And Papillary Thyroid Cancer Staging For People Above The Age Of 55
Again, any tumor that occurs without metastasis
Larger tumor but non-invasive thyroid tumors that do not spread to the lymph nodes and have not co-occuring metastasis.
Any thyroid tumor larger than 4 cm, but is still contained within the thyroid, has no spread to the lymph nodes, and has no metastasis. May also include any tumors with spread to central lymph nodes, but without co-occuring distant spread.
In this stage, the thyroid cancer has spread to nearby tissues, organs, and internal structures. Also, this classification is regardless of whether or not there is lymph node spead or distant metastasis. Stage IVA may also include a thyroid tumor that is still contained, but with spread to the lymph nodes, spread past the central lymph nodes, but no distant metastasis.
This stage represents a thyroid tumor that has spread past nearby local organs, tissues, and structures. It also does not include spread to the lymph nodes or distant spread.
Any and all cases of thyroid tumors where metastasis occurs.
Treatment for Thyroid Cancer
Depending on the staging or progression of your cancer, your care team will present you with a few different options.
When it comes to surgical treatment for thyroid cancer, treatment typically consists of removing either part or all of the diseased thyroid. Typically, thyroid removal is open surgery and leaves a scar along the neck, but new minimally invasive techniques can help help you reduce scarring and reduce your recovery time.
Your surgeon may recommend a total thyroidectomy if your issue can only be solved by total removal of the thyroid gland. When performing this surgery, your surgeon will usually leave a small peice of the thyroid gland to support the remaining parathyroid glands.
Depending on the size of the tumor, your surgeon may recommend a lobectomy, which is partial removal of the thyroid gland. Specifically, with this procedure, the doctor removes half of the thyroid.
Usually, this is performed when patients have slow-growing forms of thyroid cancer on one side of the gland and no other nodules on the other side.
Lymph Node Dissection
This surgery focuses on removing lymph nodes on the neck that have been affected by thyroid cancer. To determine if this surgery is right for you, your care team will perform a ultrasound exam to reveal any signs of cancer spreading to the lymph nodes.
Thyroid Hormone Therapy
Thyroid hormone therapy helps to supplement or replace the hormones produced by the thyroid. Usually, replacement hormones are taken in the form of an oral pill. This treatment method can be used to replace all missing hormones if your thyroid has been completely removed.
On the other hand, you may be prescribed higher doses of thyroid hormones to suppress thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that causes thyroid cancer to grow. Depending on how aggressive your cancer is, this type of hormone therapy might be effective for your case.
Radioactive iodine doses are often used to treat differentiated thyroid cancers to prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body.
Your care team will provide tests to see if you can benefit from radioactive iodine treatments. Treatments are usually taken orally in pill or liquid form. Also, the way these treatments are designed, the iodine is almost completely absorbed by your thyroid cells and there is little to no risk that other parts of your body will be affected.
Alcohol Cancer Ablation
Alcohol can be injected into thyroid cancer tumors and cause them to shrink. This method is also called ethanol ablation, and it can be used even if you can’t get surgery.
Treatment for Aggressive Thyroid Cancer
Because aggressive thyroid cancers grow more rapidly, treatment methods tend to be more aggressive.
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drug therapy focus on attacking specific chemicals present in cancer cells. Therapy treatments block these chemicals and then the lack of these chemicals cause the cancer cells to die.
Cancer radiation treatments use high concentrated beams of energy like x-rays and protons to target specific points to kill tumors or other cancer cells.
Like radiation therapy, chemotherapy targets killing specific cancer cells in your body. But instead of using beams of energy, chemotherapy uses drugs. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered in pill form but are most often administered through the veins.
Some thyroid cancer cells can be killed using heat ablation administered by radiofrequency energy devices.
Doctors can also use cold therapy to make cancer cells shrink. Typically cryoblation will use gas or liquid nitrogen to kill cancer cells, but these treatments will only be implemented to controll small areas or developments of cancer cells.
Palliative Care for Thyroid Cancer
For cases of thyroid cancer that cause pain but are ultimately so advanced, palliative care is a specialized form of care that can support your treatments.
Visit With a Thyroid Cancer Oncologist in Nashville, TN
At The Surgical Clinic, our team of expert surgeons are committed to providing excellent service to all of our patients. To learn more about our surgical oncology program or to begin treatment, fill out the contact form below.