With an average of over 50,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported every year, it’s a good thing that September raises thyroid awareness worldwide. A variety of health risks can stem from your thyroid and potentially lead to cancer. Here at The Surgical Clinic, our thyroid specialists want to help inform and educate you in honor of Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month.

Thyroid Basics 101: (Anatomy and Purpose)

The thyroid is part of the endocrine system. This system includes is made up of endocrine glands, which include your pituitary gland, adrenal glands, and thyroid glands. The endocrine system is responsible for the body’s growth and development. It also secretes hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The purpose of this gland is to produce, store and release hormones that control your metabolism. The thyroid hormones are also responsible for vital bodily functions like energy use, body temperature, and oxygen consumption.

thyroid cancer diagram

What About Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid cancer develops when cells begin to change or mutate. Some people may not experience any symptoms while others do. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include a small swollen lump in the neck, trouble swallowing, or neck/throat pain. If you begin to experience these symptoms, please call one of our general surgeons at The Surgical Clinic.

The Four Types of Thyroid Cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer. It grows slowly but may spread to lymph nodes on the neck.

Follicular cancer second most common form of thyroid cancer. It grows slowly and is found more in places with high iodine deficiencies. This is also one of the easiest types of thyroid cancer to treat.

These two types of cancer are also called differentiated thyroid cancers. In plain English, this means that the cancer cells look and behave much like normal cells. It is for this reason that thyroid cancer is harder to detect without testing.

Medullary is a less common form and is usually hereditary. It is most likely to spread to lymph nodes than papillary thyroid cancer.

Finally, anaplastic cancer is much rarer, but the most aggressive form. It grows and spreads quickly, and is very dangerous.

What are the Risks of Thyroid Cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, individuals with the following risk factors are more at risk of developing a type of thyroid cancer.

  1. Anyone between the ages of 25 and 65
  2. Anyone with childhood exposure to radiation. Particularly to the head or neck.
  3. Anyone with a family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
  4. Anyone with a history of goiters or enlarged thyroids.

Other risk factors include gender, ethnicity, and genetic conditions. You can read more about these conditions on the National Cancer Institute’s website.

Preparing for Thyroid Cancer Surgery

Your doctor will discuss with you the steps you should take to prepare for your surgery. These steps may include pausing medications such as aspirin or other blood thinners as well as some herbs and supplements. You will also be advised to not eat or drink anything for 12 hours before the surgery.

During Surgery

During your consultation, your doctor will walk you through the steps of your surgery.

First, you will be administered with an IV in the arm or hand that will provide your body with fluids and medication needed for the procedure. You’ll then be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free of pain throughout the surgery. An incision is then made at the bottom of your neck along a crease in your skin.

The surgeon will decide how much of the thyroid gland is removed. This will depend on how far cancer has spread. As a result, your surgeon may not know how much to remove until the day of your surgery. After the thyroid has been removed, the incision is then closed with sutures.

Post Surgery

Once the anesthesia has worn off, you will be advised to get up slowly and walk around. You may spend some time staying in the hospital or surgery center after the surgery. In most cases, you will be able to eat and drink the evening after your surgery.

You will then be tested to make sure your parathyroid glands are working properly. The stress of surgery may stop them from working for a short time. If this happens, you may be given calcium pills for a few days. You may also have a sore throat and a hoarse voice for a week or so after the surgery.

With all procedures, risks are possible. Some potential side effects of this procedure may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to nerves in your voice box. This can lead to a hoarse voice.
  • Damage to the parathyroid glands or their blood supply.

If you feel a lump in your throat or are experiencing pain in the neck, we urge you to contact one of our general surgeons at The Surgical Clinic who specialize in thyroid/endocrine surgery.

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