Types of thyroid cancer, Risk factor, Complications and Prevention

Transient and permanent hypoparathyroidism is the most common postoperative complications following thyroid surgery.

Updated: June 16, 2022

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 which is the most common complication of this disease. In most of the cases, prevention of this disease is not possible.

Types of Thyroid cancer:

Types of thyroid cancer include:

Papillary thyroid cancer:

This is the most common form of thyroid cancer, which arises from follicular cells, that produce and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but most often it affects people at the age of 30 to 50.

Follicular thyroid cancer:

Follicular thyroid cancer also arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It usually affects people older than age 50. Hurthle cell cancer is a rare type of follicular thyroid cancer.

Medullary thyroid cancer:

Medullary thyroid cancer occurs in C cells thyroid cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. Elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate medullary thyroid cancer at a very early stage. Certain genetic syndromes increase the risk of medullary thyroid cancer, although this genetic link is uncommon.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer:

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare and rapidly growing cancer that is very difficult to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer typically occurs in adults of age 60 and older.

Thyroid lymphoma:

Thyroid lymphoma is a rare form of thyroid cancer that begins in the immune system cells in the thyroid and grows very quickly. Thyroid lymphoma typically occurs in older adults.

Risk Factor of Thyroid Cancer:

A risk factor for thyroid cancer is something that increases your chance of getting this cancer. The most common risk factors for thyroid cancer include:

  • Age. When you get older, there is always an increased risk of developing this disease.
  • Being a female, you have higher risk of getting thyroid cancer compared to male.
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation, such as after a nuclear power accident or weapons testing.
  • A personal or family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
  • A family history of conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia, MEN 2a, MEN 2b, or FMTC (familial medullary thyroid carcinoma).
  • Being Asian.
  • A history of radiation treatments to the head, neck, or chest during childhood.
  • Other inherited medical conditions, such as Gardner's syndrome and familial polyposis.

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare type of thyroid cancer, which runs in families. You can inherit a specific gene that increases your risk for MTC.
Having one or more of these risk factors can make it more likely that you will get thyroid cancer.

Complications of Thyroid Cancer:

Transient and permanent hypoparathyroidism is the most common postoperative complications following thyroid surgery. Other complications may include, hematoma, seroma, chyle fistula, Horner's syndrome, and injury to some nerves in the neck.
There is always a chance of re-occurrence of thyroid cancer even if you have had your thyroid removed. This could happen if microscopic cancer cells spread beyond the thyroid before it is removed.
Hypoparathyroidism is the most common complication after thyroidectomy. This can occur due to the unintentional removal of parathyroid glands or poor blood flow to the glands. Patients with permanent hypoparathyroidism require life-long treatment with calcium and vitamin D. Therefore this is one of the serious complication. However, transient hypoparathyroidism rarely affects quality of life.
Thyroid cancer may reoccur in:

  • Lymph nodes in the neck
  • Thyroid tissue of small pieces that is left behind during surgery
  • Other areas of the body

Periodic blood tests or thyroid scans  can be done to check for signs of a thyroid cancer recurrence. However, thyroid cancer that recurs can be treated by several treatment option available. Mostly radioactive iodine treatment is preferred for these cases. Hematoma after thyroidectomy is a potentially fatal complication. Seroma may require aspiration to make the patients comfortable. Chyle fistula is a rare and troublesome complication. Left untreated, it can cause severe disturbances in fluid and electrolyte balance, protein loss, abnormal metabolic status, delayed wound healing, shock, and even death.

Prevention of Thyroid Cancer:

People, especially children with an inherited gene mutation are at higher risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer. These people are mostly advised to have thyroid surgery to prevent cancer. Prophylactic thyroidectomy could be a preffered option to prevent thyroid cancer in such cases. You can also discuss different options with a genetic counselor.
For people who lives within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant, prevention can be done by taking a a medication (potassium iodide) that blocks the effects of radiation on the thyroid.


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