Thyroid Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment
There are approximately 44,000 new cases of Thyroid Cancer every year. The good news is that this increase in diagnosis stems from new and advanced detection techniques. Tests like CT and MRI scans have been developed and refined, allowing for detection at earlier stages of cancer.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, most thyroid cancer can be cured. Please consult this guide if you are a loved one who believes that you might have thyroid cancer.
Early Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
The most common symptom of Thyroid Cancer is an enlargement or swelling of the thyroid glands in your neck. Other symptoms include:
- Increased hoarseness of the voice that does not heal
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in the neck and throat
After performing a routine physical your doctor might perform these exams in order to ascertain if you have thyroid cancer:
- Physical Examination – Your doctor will feel your neck for any signs of growth inside the thyroid glands around your neck. They also will ask about potential risk factors, such as your family’s history with Thyroid cancer and other cancers.
- Blood test – A blood test might be prescribed in order to test whether your hormone levels are normal, a sign of a healthy thyroid
- Ultrasound Imaging – Ultrasound uses sound waves to construct an in-depth image of your body structure. Ultrasounds can be a crucial test in deciphering whether a thyroid growth is benign or malignant and needs surgical treatment
- Biopsy of suspect tissue – Using an Ultrasound as a guide, your doctor may remove a small part of the tissue in question through a procedure called a fine-needle aspiration biopsy. The sample then can be tested for cancerous cells.
If your thyroid cancer is very small and has a low risk of spreading, your doctor may advise against treatment, preferring to keep cancer under active surveillance, usually through a blood and ultrasound test once or twice a year. These growths may never grow past this stage and may never require treatment.
However, most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer will require treatment at some point. Common non-surgical treatments include Thyroid Hormone Therapy, Chemotherapy, or Radiotive treatments, however, most thyroid cancer patients opt for surgical treatments. These treatments include:
- Partial Removal of the thyroid (Thyroid Lobectomy) – Can be performed as an alternative to complete removal of the thyroid. A lobectomy is performed if the cancerous growth is small and has low signs of spreading. One advantage of this treatment is that the patient might not have to rely on thyroid hormone pills after treatment
- Near Complete or Complete removal of the thyroid (Thyroidectomy) – The most common form of surgical treatment for thyroid cancer, a surgeon will remove most if not all the thyroid gland in order to decrease the chance of new growths forming. While this treatment will leave a scar around the neck, the scar will grow less noticeable over time. Patients who go through a thyroidectomy will need to take thyroid hormone pills daily
- Removal of the lymph nodes around the neck (Lymph node dissection) – If cancer has spread through the thyroid into the lymph nodes, these nodes will often be removed during the same procedure as the thyroid removal surgery.
Common side effects of surgery include:
- Temporary or permanent hoarseness of voice
- Hematoma – forms of blood clots around the neck
- Damage to the parathyroid glands could lead to irregulated calcium levels which can cause muscle spasms
Every form of treatment should be heavily discussed with your medical team before proceeding, but if you or a loved one is suffering from thyroid cancer, there is hope for treatment and a cure.