Thyroid cancer can be hard to diagnose because it does not always have symptoms. In fact some possible symptoms are not actually caused by thyroid cancer. Instead, they can be caused by thyroid nodules which are not necessarily cancerous. However, when it comes to thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer, it is vital to keep in mind that most adults have adult nodules and most of them are not cancerous. We develop more thyroid nodules as we age and 95 percent of them are not cancerous. However, most patients who a have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer usually have a thyroid nodule and they can be diagnosed with thyroid cancer on further testing.
Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
Lump in the neck
Although not all nodules are big enough to cause noticeable lumps, some thyroid cancer patient may see or feel a lump in the front of the neck. However, thyroid cancer can only be detected and diagnosed when the doctor feels tor thyroid and performs a thyroid exam.
- Swollen Lymph nodes
A swollen lymph node in the neck is also a possible symptom of thyroid cancer although it is not related to thyroid nodules. Sometimes thyroid cancer spreads to the lymph nodes which help the body fight infections. Your lymph nodes should always return to normal after the infection is gone. The lymph nodes in your neck can become swollen when you have a sore throat or cold. You should therefore consult your doctor if your lymph nodes stay enlarged for a long period even after the infection is gone.
- Difficult Breathing or Swallowing
The thyroid is just on top of the trachea (windpipe). Thyroid cancer may cause an enlarged thyroid gland which puts pressure on the windpipe which can cause trouble breathing. On the other hand, the esophagus sits bellow the trachea; developing thyroid cancer can therefore make swallowing more difficult.
- Hoarse Voice
The thyroid gland sits below the voice box (larynx). An enlarged thyroid nodule may be pressing on your voice box, causing voice changes such as hoarseness. The enlarged nodule might possibly be thyroid cancer, so it’s very important to visit your health care professional.
- Throat Pain
Persistent pain in the throat is also one of the symptoms of thyroid cancer and you should see your doctor in case the paid does not go away.
- Neck Pain
In case neck pain lasts more than a few days, you should see your doctor in order to figure out exactly what is causing it. Although thyroid cancer is an unlikely cause of prolonged neck pain, be sure to mention it to your doctor especially if it is accompanied by any other symptoms.
There are four types of thyroid cancer:
Follicular thyroid cancer:
It makes up about 10% of all thyroid cancers and is most often diagnosed in patients above the age of 50 years. Follicular cancer cells are usually sphere-shaped and they can easily invade the blood vessels and affect other body parts including the lung and bone tissue. Although females are affected three times more often than males, follicular thyroid cancer is potentially aggressive especially in older patients.
Papillary thyroid cancer:
Although papillary thyroid cancer can develop at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in patients aged between 30 and 50 years. It is the most common type of thyroid cancer affecting at least 80% of all thyroid cancer patients with females being affected up to 3 times more often than their male counterparts. Papillary thyroid cancer is usually not aggressive but it can spread to areas primarily around the neck (areas close to the thyroid and the lymph nodes). It arises from follicular cells and its cells resemble tiny finger-like projections.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer:
This is a very rare type of thyroid cancer that affects less than 5% of all thyroid cancer patients. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is most often diagnosed in adults above the age of 65 years. Besides being very aggressive and invasive, Anaplastic thyroid cancer is least responsive to treatment largely due to rapid growth. Anaplasia (anaplastic) simply means that cells lose normal organization and structure. Females are generally affected more compared to males.
Medullary thyroid cancer:
Medullary thyroid cancer makes up at least 5% of all thyroid cancers and it’s usually associated with endocrine disorders. It is more likely to run in families primarily due to some genetic symptoms that increase the risk of developing Medullary thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer develops from the parafollicular cells or C Cells that produce calcitonin which promotes bone growth and also regulates the levels of phosphate and calcium in the blood. Therefore, elevated levels of calcitonin can indicate very early stages of cancer. Males and females are equally affected. It typically occurs in adults aged between 40 and 50 years.
In most cases, thyroid cancer develops in thyroid nodules, it is therefore necessary to be aware of thyroid cancer symptoms. Usually the noticeable symptoms are not caused by thyroid cancer itself but by thyroid nodules where the cancer is developing. You should make an appointment with a doctor if you notice these symptoms.
Read on for more information on Hypothyroidism.