Thyroid cancer or thyroid carcinoma is a not very common cancer. However, thyroid cancer is mostly malignant in nature, so that medical treatment is absolutely necessary, otherwise the disease can lead to death. The causes are not yet fully known. However, it is assumed that there is an iodine deficiency or pre-existing conditions of the thyroid gland. Hereditary causes are also possible.
What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer, also known as thyroid carcinoma in medical jargon, is a malignant tumor that affects the cells of the thyroid gland. See bittranslators for About Incontinence (or Urinary Incontinence).
Medicine differentiates between the following four types of carcinoma, depending on the cells from which it developed: follicular carcinoma, papillary carcinoma, medullary carcinoma and anaplastic carcinoma.
This cancer is one of the rarer types of cancer; Every year around 5,000 people develop thyroid cancer in Germany. Women are affected by this disease much more frequently than men.
The far-reaching causes of thyroid cancer have not yet been clarified.
However, there are some factors that definitely favor this disease. Iodine deficiency is one of the most common causes of thyroid cancer. It is therefore important to ensure that the body is supplied with sufficient iodine, especially when it comes to nutrition.
Some previous diseases of the thyroid gland can also lead to the onset of thyroid cancer. Some ionizing radiation can also lead to the onset of this disease. The Chernobyl reactor catastrophe or the atomic bomb disasters in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, produced a plethora of such dangerous radiation.
But this is also hereditary; genetic factors also play a role in the development of this disease.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Thyroid cancer can go unnoticed for a long time. An enlargement of the organ is usually first noticed by breathing difficulties. This leads to shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing, but also to hoarseness and swelling in the respiratory tract. The lymph nodes also swell, which can result in coughing and fever symptoms.
Occasionally, the swelling of the lymph nodes and thyroid can be felt from the outside. They are accompanied by an increasing feeling of pressure and pain. Certain forms of thyroid cancer progress faster than others. It usually takes months or even years before the first symptoms are noticed.
By then, the disease is usually far advanced and the cancer may have spread to surrounding areas of the body. If the cancer is detected and treated in good time, the tumor can often be removed before it metastasizes. The accompanying symptoms subside once the growth is removed.
Untreated thyroid cancer continues to progress and eventually leads to the death of the patient. Before that, the tumor forms metastases in the surrounding body regions. As a result, the original symptoms initially increase – shortness of breath, changes in the color of the voice and non-specific general symptoms such as pain, fever and nerve disorders occur. The exact type and severity of the symptoms depends on the location of the tumor.
Course of the disease
The course of thyroid cancer varies from case to case. In the early stages, however, there are usually hardly any symptoms. Only when the tumor has visibly enlarged do the patients notice a kind of lump in the area of the thyroid gland. This can become so large that it can put pressure on the esophagus and trachea, making it difficult for the patient to eat or breathe.
As the disease progresses, nerve tracts can also be damaged and the vocal cords paralyzed. As a result, some thyroid cancer patients often have a hoarse voice. The so-called Horner syndrome, in turn, is characterized by the fact that, as already mentioned, the pupil narrows and, as the disease progresses, the eyeball sinks back into the orbit. As a result, the upper eyelid hangs down on the affected side.
Thyroid cancer can usually be unequivocally diagnosed with an ultrasound. So-called scintigraphy, an imaging method, is also frequently used. During the thyroid puncture, the doctor pricks the suspicious lump with a fine needle and removes tissue. Laryngeal endoscopy and bone scintigraphy are other necessary measures to rule out that metastases have migrated to the lungs or other neighboring organs.
Thyroid cancer can cause a number of complications as it progresses. Symptoms of paralysis of the vocal folds, voice changes and hormonal disorders cannot be ruled out as a result of the disease. It can also lead to physical deficiencies and permanent damage to the kidneys, liver and heart. A serious illness can lead to chronic pain, which in connection with the illness itself can also cause psychological problems.
Those affected are often depressed and sometimes suffer from panic attacks. Depending on the type of treatment, various complications can occur when treating thyroid carcinoma. Radiation therapy, for example, can cause acute side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, fatigue and hair loss.
In the long term, damage to the mucous membrane and discoloration of the skin are conceivable. Very rarely, radiotherapy itself can cause cancer. Chemotherapy can have similar consequences. In addition, there is possible organ damage, reproductive disorders and infections. Radioiodine therapy can lead to temporary changes in the bone marrow and blood count, as well as to edema and disorders of the function of the lacrimal glands.
A surgical procedure can be associated with bleeding, nerve injuries, wound healing disorders and other complications. In addition, the medication can lead to longer-lasting symptoms.
When should you go to the doctor?
If symptoms such as persistent hoarseness, hair loss or recurrent constipation occur, thyroid cancer may be the cause. A visit to the doctor is recommended if the symptoms get worse and cannot be alleviated by rest and rest. If you gain weight, it is best to consult your doctor immediately. People who do not eat a balanced diet and specifically take in too little iodine have an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. Even after contact with radioactive radiation, there is a risk that a tumor will form in the thyroid gland.
People who have had radiation treatment for cancer should tell their doctor if they experience the above symptoms. There is also an increased risk if the disease runs in families. Regular check-ups are indicated. Thyroid cancer is treated by an internist. Other contacts are the family doctor and, depending on the symptoms, various specialists. As part of the therapy, nutritionists and, if necessary, physiotherapists must also be consulted to support the patient in implementing the medical requirements. Advanced cancer is treated as an inpatient in a specialist clinic.
Treatment & Therapy
The treatment of thyroid cancer depends on how far the disease has progressed. In most cases, however, this treatment consists of a combination of surgery and radiation. Hormone therapy is also often used. This is usually necessary when the entire thyroid gland has to be removed from the patient and the patient now has to take thyroid hormones.
However, for smaller tumors, less than a centimeter in diameter, it is usually not necessary to remove the entire thyroid gland. Chemotherapy, which is otherwise used for most types of cancer, has so far not proven itself in thyroid cancer because this type of tumor often does not respond to the drugs. However, if thyroid cancer is detected in time, there is a very good chance of recovery.
Follow-up care for thyroid cancer begins in the clinic, with the attending physician preparing the patient for life without a thyroid gland through detailed discussions. The most important thing is the consistent intake of the thyroid hormones in the prescribed dosage. This is determined and checked by regular blood tests. With this thyroid hormone replacement therapy, those affected can usually lead a completely normal life.
A recurrence of thyroid cancer is rare, but with appropriate follow-up examinations, a recurrence can be detected early and combated. Initially, these examinations take place every three to six months at the endocrinologist’s, the nuclear medicine doctor’s or in the hospital. If there are no symptoms, the intervals can later be extended to a year.
In addition to a detailed discussion, a physical examination is carried out, important clues are also provided by the thyroglobulin level in the blood, a sonography and, if necessary, a whole-body scintigraphy. The doctor treating you decides which examinations are necessary: The aftercare schedule depends on the type and extent of the tumor and the therapy carried out.
If metastasis to the lungs is suspected, doctors may order chest x-rays or positron emission tomography (PET). Psycho-oncological care can be used for psychological support after cancer, and exchange with other affected people in a self-help group is also helpful.
You can do that yourself
Thyroid cancer belongs in the treatment of a specialized doctor, but is also accessible to self-help in everyday life. The main aim here is to alleviate the consequences of treatments and also to deal with the psychological management of the clinical picture. Due to the rarity of thyroid cancer, exchange in self-help groups is advisable, which can help with tips and enable valuable information to be passed on among like-minded people. Internet forums and associations for thyroid disorders are also often helpful.
After the therapy, the supply of thyroid hormones is often necessary. These cannot be set ideally immediately. Weight, as well as mood swings, must therefore be monitored closely in order to be able to react appropriately. Physical reactions can also be noted and communicated to the doctor with a view to making a targeted adjustment. In this context, the spectrum ranges from heart palpitations to digestive problems. Going to regular blood tests to check the level of thyroid hormones is also very important for the patient.
A healthy lifestyle supports regeneration after therapy and the well-being of the patient. This includes getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet with enough fluids. Fluid is very important, especially after throat surgery. This makes swallowing food much easier. Care should also be taken to protect the vocal cords immediately after an operation.