As with any form of cancer, early recognition is a crucial component of effective treatment. Thyroid cancer is the tenth most common form of cancer and affects one of the most important systems in the body. In order to identify thyroid cancer, a person must be familiar with the specific signs and symptoms of the condition. The following six signs and symptoms outlined below will help you better understand and recognize thyroid cancer.
A Quick Look at Thyroid Cancer
Before discussing the symptoms of thyroid cancer, it is important to understand the condition itself. Thyroid cancer, as the name suggests, develops in the thyroid. There are four forms of thyroid cancer, papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. The most common forms, papillary and follicular, originate in malfunctioning follicular cells, which are responsible for hormone synthesis. Both papillary and follicular cancers make up the majority of thyroid cancer cases and are considered highly survivable.
Medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancers are rare but significantly more threatening. A primary danger associated with these forms is that they can quickly spread to other organs and regions in the body. In the case of medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer, the lymph nodes are of particular concern. This is because both medullary and anaplastic can easily invade this region soon after developing in the thyroid gland.
Risk Factors of Thyroid Cancer
There are various factors that can influence the risk of developing thyroid cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the median age of patients who are diagnosed with cancer is 66 years old. Thyroid cancer is abnormal in that it is more often seen in younger patients, typically between the ages of 25 and 50. Additionally, thyroid cancer, and thyroid disease in general, is more common among women than men. Another major contributor of thyroid cancer is sustained iodine deficiency. Regions whose population does not obtain adequate levels of iodine have been shown to have elevated rates of thyroid cancer.
Indicators of Thyroid Cancer
In all cases of cancer, the earlier it is recognized the easier it is to eliminate. Regardless of the form of thyroid cancer it is important that patients be familiar with the signs and symptoms. The following symptoms may indicate that a person has thyroid cancer. If such symptoms are present, individuals should seek further testing and confirmation.
Lump or Growth on Throat
Perhaps the most common indicator of thyroid cancer is an errant lump or nodule that has formed near the thyroid gland or lymph nodes. Lumps may not be visible to the naked eye. Typically, a thyroid neck check must be done to detect the growth. The neck check is a simple process that can be done at home and should be completed on a regular basis to check for thyroid cancer.
Swelling of the Lymph Nodes
Lumps or abnormal growths in the neck may also be indicative of swollen lymph nodes. This could be a sign that cancer has spread from the thyroid gland and into the lymph nodes. The spread of malignancy to these areas can make treatment more difficult.
A cough or tickle in the throat is typically not a cause for alarm if it is a new development or associated with another condition like the common cold. However, if coughing persists for an extended period, it may be indicative of thyroid cancer.
Pain in Throat or Neck
The majority of thyroid cancer patients experience some degree of neck pain. The intensity of this pain varies from patient to patient. The frequency and region affected is also patient dependent. In some cases, pain is isolated to the front of the neck near where the thyroid gland is located. However, it is possible for pain to traverse the neck and spread towards the ears or be felt in the jaw.
Difficulty Swallowing or Breathing
Thyroid cancer can cause expansion of the thyroid gland and enlarged thyroid nodules. As these masses continue to increase in size, they can constrict the throat making it difficult for a patient to swallow. An unchecked growth may increase to such a size that it compresses the windpipe or esophagus enough to inhibit breathing. Some have described the sensation as being similar to breathing through a straw. Difficulty breathing is a common symptom of thyroid cancer.
Hoarseness and Difficulty Speaking
Also relating to the expansion of thyroid nodule or other growths, thyroid cancer patients may experience scratchiness or hoarseness in the throat. Some may even notice alterations in their speaking voice. This typically happens if the thyroid cancer has spread to the nerves controlling the vocal cords. In such situations the voice can deepen in tone, which may be jarring for some patients.
Be on The Lookout for Thyroid Cancer
Even though thyroid cancer may cause various symptoms to arise, it is important to note that thyroid cancer can occur without triggering symptoms that are immediately recognizable. Furthermore, in the presence of thyroid cancer, it is common for thyroid tests to return nominal results. This makes recognizing thyroid cancer exceptionally difficult.
Thyroid cancer is most often recognized through physical exams administered by doctors at regular check-ups. Other common modes of diagnosis include incidental discovery of thyroid nodules during CT scans and ultrasound neck exams for unrelated condition. Patients may also discover warning signs by administering a neck check or through visual recognition of growths or bumps around the neck.
Being aware of potential signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer is important. When cancer is recognized and diagnosed early, the efficacy of treatment and likelihood of recovery increases significantly. Protect yourself by regularly checking for signs of thyroid cancer and attending period check-ups with your doctor.
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4. American Thyroid Association. Thyroid cancer.. https://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-cancer/