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.
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.
- Anyone between the ages of 25 and 65
- Anyone with childhood exposure to radiation. Particularly to the head or neck.
- Anyone with a family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
- 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
Most thyroid cancers require surgery for treatment. 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.
Types of Thyroid Cancer Surgery
- Transoral and Parathyroid scarless surgery
- Lymph node removal
A lobectomy removes the lobe containing the cancer and is best for thyroid cancers that are small and show no signs of having spread to other parts of the body. After a lobectomy, patients typically don’t need thyroid hormone pills, since the whole thyroid is not removed. However, leaving part of the thyroid can cause issues with cancer recurrence tests.
In contrast to a lobectomy, a thyroidectomy removes the whole thyroid gland. Most surgeons perform a thyroidectomy through a small incision at the bottom of the neck, leaving a scar that fades over time. Because the surgeon removes the entire thyroid, patients will need to take hormone pills. On the plus side, doctors can easily test for recurrence using radioiodine scans and thyroglobulin blood tests.
Most people do not want scars after surgery. Thankfully, transoral and parathyroid surgery leave no scars. The surgeon makes three incisions in the lower lip and uses special instruments that pass under the skin to access the thyroid for either partial or full removal.
For advanced thyroid cancers that have spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, a surgeon will remove those lymph nodes. Typically, medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic cancer require a lymph node removal.
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.
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:
- Damage to nerves in your voice box. This can lead to a hoarse voice.
- Damage to the parathyroid glands or their blood supply.
Thyroid Surgeons in Tennessee
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.
General surgeons in Greater Nashville
Dr. Suhail Allos
Dr. John Boskind
Dr. Rachel Bryant
St. Thomas West
Dr. Mark Cooper
Dr. Patrick Davis
Dr. Alex Fruin
Dr. Andrew Garrett
Dr. Trudie Goers
Dr. Mark Hinson
Dr. George Lynch
Dr. Clinton Marlar
Dr. James McDowell
Dr. Willie Melvin
Dr. Chad Moss
Dr. William Polk
Dr. Drew Reynolds
St. Thomas West
Dr. Joshua Taylor
Dr. Tyson Thomas
St. Thomas West
Dr. Tyler Watson
Dr. Patrick Wolf
St. Thomas West