What is thyroid cancer? Signs and symptoms to look out for and the treatment available

Thyroid cancer is quite rare in the UK with around 3,400 diagnoses made each year.  It is more common in women than in men.

THYROID cancer is quite rare in the UK – less than 1 percent of every 100 cancers diagnosed in Britain is a thyroid cancer.

Around 3,400 diagnoses are made each year, with it more common in women than in men. So what are the signs and symptoms to look out for and how is it treated?

Thyroid cancer is reasonably rare in the UK

What is thyroid cancer?

The thyroid gland is found at the base of your neck at the front, just behind the hollow where your collarbones meet.

It is a butterfly-shaped gland that makes and releases hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.

It  is made up of two lobes connected by a bridge of tissue.

 The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped hormone producing gland

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped hormone producing gland

What are the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer doesn’t usually present any signs or symptoms early in the disease.

It is usually found when patients are undergoing ultrasounds, CT scans or MRIs for an unrelated reason.

As the cancer grows it may cause;

  • A lump that can be felt or is visible through the skin on your neck
  • A change to your voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A mysterious cough
  • Pain in your neck and throat
 Thyroid cancer mainly affects women

Thyroid cancer mainly affects women

How is thyroid cancer treated?

Doctors will decide on your treatment depending on which type of thyroid cancer you have, what stage it is at and what your general health and fitness level is.

The main treatments are;

  • Surgery – an operation called a thyroidectomy (partial or total) to remove the affected gland
  • Radiotherapy iodine treatment – thyroid cells absorb iodine and the radiation in the iodine kills the cancer cells
  • Thyroid hormone therapy – hormones are taken to stop your body from making the thyroid stimulating hormone, which can reduce the risk of the cancer coming back or slow it down if it’s already spread
  • Radiotherapy – external therapy using high energy waves to kill the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy – this is still an experimental treatment and the chemo drugs are used to disrupt the growth or destroy the cancer cells
  • Biological therapy – several drugs have been developed to stimulate the body to attack or control the growth of cancer cells.

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Author: Dr James Robber

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