Thyroid Cancer

What is Thyroid Cancer?

Thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck below the larynx. This gland produces hormones that regulate various vital metabolic processes including growth and energy consumption.

Thyroid cancer is the abnormal growth of tissue called nodule in the thyroid gland. It develops when the cells in the thyroid gland divide uncontrollably and produce extra tissue. These nodules can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Thyroid nodules should be carefully evaluated and diagnosed to distinguish benign nodules (the vast majority of thyroid nodules) and malignant ones. The malignant types of thyroid cancers include:

  • Anaplastic Carcinoma
  • Follicular Carcinoma
  • Medullary Carcinoma
  • Papillary Carcinoma

The exact cause of thyroid nodules remains unknown. However, certain risk factors can increase the chance of thyroid nodules development:

  • Exposure to radiation treatments, particularly to the head and neck, can cause thyroid nodules development
  • Other risk factors include a family history of thyroid nodules, gender (women are more prone to thyroid cancer than men), and a diet low in iodine
  • Some inflammatory thyroid disorders can lead to thyroid nodule formation, including goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland), hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune condition that causes hypothyroidism)

Symptoms of thyroid cancer depend on the type of cancer, but most thyroid nodules, whether benign or malignant, present the following general symptoms:

  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing (in severe cases)
  • Hoarseness and voice changes
  • Lump in the neck that moves with swallowing

Surgery is the mainstay treatment for large and fast-growing malignant thyroid nodules:

  • Conventional open thyroid surgery to remove half or the entire thyroid gland through an incision in the middle of lower neck
  • Radio-iodine treatment or radiotherapy may be needed after surgery
  • Robotic thyroidectomy, an advanced robotic surgery, can be used to completely remove the thyroid gland without a neck incision. The point of entry for this surgery is in the armpit instead of the neck, therefore no visible neck scar would be seen after the surgery

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