Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Causes and Diagnosis

When abnormal cells begin to grow in your thyroid gland, it results in thyroid cancer.

Updated: June 16, 2022

When abnormal cells begin to grow in your thyroid gland, it results in thyroid cancer. Thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck which produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.
Mostly thyroid cancer is an uncommon disease and can be cured when detected early and the treatments work well. Thyroid cancer may come back, sometimes many years after treatment.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer:

Some people may not have any symptoms and the cancer is detected while finding a lump or nodule in the neck during a routine physical examination. Typically it does not cause any signs or symptoms early in the disease. As thyroid cancer grows, it may cause:

  • A lump that can be felt through the skin on your neck
  • Changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness
  • Trouble breathing or have constant wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain in your neck, throat and sometimes in your ears
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Frequent cough that is not related to a cold

Causes of Thyroid Cancer:

Thyroid cancer occurs due to changes in the DNA of your cells which may include changes that are genetic as well as those that happen as you get older. Genetic changes, also known as mutations, allow the cells to grow and multiply rapidly. The cells also lose the ability to die, as normal cells would which gets accumulated forming a tumor. The abnormal cells can also enter nearby tissue and spread throughout the body.
People who have been exposed to a lot of radiation have a greater chance of getting thyroid cancer. Radiation treatment of your head, neck, or chest, especially during childhood can put you at risk of getting thyroid cancer.

Diagnosis of Thyroid cancer:

Diagnosis of thyroid cancer can be done by either of the following test:

Physical examination:

Based on your risk factors, such as excessive exposure to radiation and a family history of thyroid tumors, your doctor can diagnose the cancer. He will also look for physical changes in your thyroid, such as presence of a lump or swollen lump nodes.

Blood tests:

Blood tests that include TFT, help determine if the thyroid gland is functioning normally. Thyroid function tests are a series of blood tests which include T3, T4, and TSH and are done to determine how well your thyroid gland is working. Thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that is located in the lower-front part of your neck that typically produces three hormones namely triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4), and calcitonin.
The thyroid produces hormones when the pituitary gland releases TSH in the blood. Thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH is responsible for regulation of metabolism, release of hormones by the thyroid gland, energy generation, and mood. A TSH blood test to check for the existence of any underlying causes of a typical production of hormones in these two glands. If the TSH level comes abnormal, then further screening for overactive or underactive thyroid gland is done.

Thyroid biopsy:

In this procedure a long, thin needle through your skin and into the thyroid nodule is inserted. Typically ultrasound imaging is used to precisely guide the needle into the nodule. Your doctor uses the needle to remove samples of suspicious thyroid tissue. The sample is analyzed in the laboratory to look for cancer cells.
Looking in to the sample the pathologist will then decide if the nodule is benign or malignant.
The pathologist will also decide the type of thyroid cancer, whether it is papillary, follicular, mixed papillary-follicular, medullary, or anaplastic.

Imaging tests:

You may have one or more imaging tests which include computerized tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) or ultrasound. These test will help determine whether your cancer has spread beyond the thyroid.

Genetic testing:

If you have a family history of thyroid cancer, it is recommended to look for genes that increase your risk of cancer by genetic testing. People with medullary thyroid cancer may have genetic changes that can be associated with other endocrine cancers.


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