The thyroid gland is below the thyroid cartilage (Adam’s apple) in the front part of the neck. In most people, the thyroid cannot be seen or felt. Thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located in the front part of the neck that secretes crucial hormones to help the body and mind perform their normal functions by enabling them to regulate the use of energy and metabolism.
‘The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormones which are important in the normal regulation of the metabolism of the body. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than in men.’
Symptoms to watch out for: In some patients, there may not be any indicative symptoms and their physician may spot a nodule or lump in the neck by chance during a routine examination. In other patients, symptoms of thyroid cancer may sometimes overlap with other conditions such as a throat infection, gastro intestinal reflux disease, or respiratory allergies. However, it is important to always ensure a thorough diagnosis to rule out the condition. As stated above, if spotted early, the disease is highly treatable.
Thyroid cancer symptoms may include: Most common symptom of the condition is a lump or swelling in the neck which must be immediately reported for diagnosis – Pain in the neck – Trouble swallowing and trouble breathing which might be accompanied by constant wheezing – A constant cough that is not associated with a cold – Some people may also have pain in their ears – Hoarseness is another symptom found in some people.
What are the risk factors? There are several risk factors associated with thyroid cancer including family history, an inherited mutated gene, smoking, iodine deficiency and exposure to radiation as a child. However, while some risk factors can be controlled or eliminated, some cannot be modified. All the more, not all people with risk factors will go on to develop thyroid cancer.
However, Dr Lata Kini, the Lead Clinical Pathologist of CORE Diagnostics, says that knowing your risk factors allows you to be cautious about the disease and its symptoms. These include:
Your gender: According to American Cancer Society, women are three times more likely to acquire thyroid cancer than men. Also, while women are most often diagnosed in their middle years – 40s and 50s, men are usually diagnosed later on in life – in their 60s or 70s. The reason for higher risk among women, however, is not clear.
Hereditary conditions: Some inherited conditions are linked to higher risk of thyroid cancer. For example, medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs) are a type of thyroid cancers that occur due to an inherited faulty gene. Today, genetic testing can allow you to check if you have inherited this faulty gene. At the same time, having a close relative with thyroid cancer is also associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer.
Lodine deficiency Having a diet low on iodine is another risk factor for thyroid cancer. Races and populations that consume a low iodine diet are associated with an increased risk of follicular thyroid cancers.
Radiation exposure If you have had exposure to radiation, particularly as a child, you are at an increased risk of thyroid cancer. Such radiation exposure might occur during certain medical treatments or accidents at nuclear energy sites. Examples of medical treatments include radiation therapy for cancers such as lymphoma, or neuroblastoma. Children must therefore be given lowest doses of radiation, even for tests such as X Rays or CT Scan.
Treatment Most frequently treatment involves removing a part of or the entire thyroid gland. As a result the patient has to take artificial thyroid hormones for their entire lives post this treatment. Thyroid cancer is also treated with radioactive iodine, and in most cases chemotherapy or radiation therapy is not used. However, a patient has to be very careful about recurrence and must undergo regular screenings even after the treatment has been successful.