Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that is located in the front part of your neck below the thyroid cartilage, or the Adams’s apple. Follicular cells, which are found inside the thyroid gland, create and secrete hormones that help regulate functions such as your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Sometimes, the thyroid gland can form nodules, or lumps, which may become cancerous over time. It’s important to note that many nodules are not serious and do not cause symptoms. Depending on the size and appearance of the nodule, your doctor may wish to conduct a series of tests. A neck ultrasound is typically the best test to evaluate the thyroid gland and thyroid nodules.

If you do have thyroid nodules, you should see your regular doctor or a thyroid specialist such as an endocrinologist.

Screening and Diagnosis

After conducting a physical examination and reviewing your medical history, your doctor may suggest a number of different tests, including:
  • Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, chest X-ray, CT scan, and/or radioiodine scan
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests
  • Vocal cord exam (laryngoscopy)
These tests will help your doctor find suspicious areas that may be cancer, and learn how far the cancer may have spread.

Symptoms

The majority of patients with thyroid cancer are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t experience any noticeable symptoms or warning signs. Thyroid cancer only presents symptoms when the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. This usually takes many years to develop. If and when the cancer has advanced, patients may start to suffer from symptoms such as neck pain or swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, persistent coughing and hoarseness or vocal changes.

Because these symptoms can be indicative of another thyroid condition, you should consult your primary care physician, who can refer you to a thyroid specialist or endocrinologist for further testing and medical guidance.

Treatment

Depending on the stage and type of thyroid cancer you have, treatment methods may vary. Papillary thyroid cancer, which accounts for nearly 80-90% of all cases, is the most common form of thyroid cancer and is typically very responsive to surgery. Other forms of the disease may be treated using alternative methods, including thyroid hormone therapy, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

To get an accurate diagnosis and increase your chances of a healthy recovery, it’s critical to see a thyroid surgeon or endocrinologist for more information.
thyroid gland

Anatomy of the thyroid gland