What are the most common Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer in females and males are commonly visible in advanced stage of cancer depending upon the damage done by cancerous cells but are not so common in early stage of thyroid cancer. If an individual suspects that there are issues with their thyroid, it is important that they check for the first symptoms of thyroid cancer. Thyroid is the master gland of our body. Although thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped organ at the base of the neck, it has a direct impact on the quality of one’s life.
Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism. They affect the rate of various processes in our body like our heart rate, respiration, conversion of food into energy, and of how this energy is utilized by various organ systems. An individual with a healthy thyroid enjoys an active, joyous, energetic, and stress-free life. On the other hand, someone whose thyroid is not functioning at its normal best will experience fluctuations in mood, unexplained weight loss or gain, lethargy or restlessness, skin issues etc.
Therefore, it is important to identify the symptoms of Thyroid disorders in order to lead an active and joyous life. If the first symptoms of thyroid cancer are ignored and left undetected, then they may have an impact on our day-to-day life as well as our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
What is Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid is located at the base of the neck, below Adam’s apple and around the windpipe (trachea). Thyroid is divided into two halves known and it resembles the shape of a butterfly. The right lobe and the left lobe of the thyroid gland are connected by a tissue called the isthmus.
Like any other cancer, when there is a growth and rise of abnormal cells in this gland, it leads to thyroid cancer. Children or people who have had exposure to radiation may develop abnormal cells in organs, which in this case would be the thyroid gland. The DNA in these cells starts to mutate, causing the cells to grow rapidly in number. This can cause lumps that become cancerous, causing symptoms of thyroid cancer.
Thyroid Cancer is less common as compared to cancers of other tissues or organs. However, it is the most common cancer of the endocrine system. If a patient suspects that they have symptoms of thyroid cancer, they should take immediate medical help lest they should start experiencing symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer.
Structure of the Thyroid Gland and Relation with Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
The thyroid gland comprises of different cells that perform various different functions in the organ. Depending upon which type of cells gets affected, different types of thyroid cancer occur in thyroid cancer patients. To understand the common symptoms of cancer, let us first understand the function of various thyroid organ tissue cells.
- Follicular cells are the type of cells that help in the production of thyroid hormones like T3 and T4 by using the iodine consumed from foods.
- Parafollicular cells are also known as C cells. This is the type of cells which helps in the production of the hormone calcitonin, which further helps decide and regulate the use of calcium in the body.
- Lymphocytes are the other type of cells which help in maintaining the immunity of the body.
- Stormal cells help in providing support to the thyroid gland.
Types of Thyroid Cancer and Symptoms
Depending on the type of cells affected by the cancer, there are different types of thyroid cancer that are categorized in medical practice. Understanding the types and roots of various types of cancer will help us in distinguishing between different common symptoms of thyroid cancer. Depending upon the symptoms, the concentration and the goals of the treatment for the cancer also varies.
Different Types of Thyroid Cancer with it Symptoms
The different types of well differentiated as well as undifferentiated thyroid cancers are:-
Papillary Thyroid Cancer
Papillary Thyroid cancer is also known as Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma and Papillary Adenocarcinoma. It is the most common type of thyroid cancer and 80% of thyroid cancer cases are found to be of this type. The growth of papillary thyroid cancer is gradual and slow and usually is found in only one of the lobes of the thyroid gland.
Sometimes, papillary thyroid cancer spreads to lymph nodes in the neck. The follicular subtype of this type of cancer also exists but has the same kind of treatment. The common symptoms of thyroid cancer of the papillary type are identifiable, are rarely fatal, and can be treated successfully in most cases.
The other sub-types of papillary thyroid cancer are columnar, diffuse sclerosing, insular, and tall cell. These thyroid cancer sub-types are rare and more difficult to treat. However, diagnosing the first symptoms of thyroid cancer at the right time leads to successful treatment of the ailment in most cases.
Follicular Thyroid Cancer
Follicular Carcinoma or Follicular Adenocarcinoma is the second most common type of thyroid cancer in patients. It makes for nearly 10% of the thyroid cancer cases. The symptoms of thyroid cancer of the follicular type are common in geographies where there is a lack of iodine in people’s diets. The success rate of the treatment of follicular thyroid cancer is very good, but not as good as papillary thyroid carcinoma.
Hṻrthle Cell Cancer
Hurthle Cell Cancer or Oxyphil Cell Carcinoma is found in nearly 3% of the total thyroid cancer cases. It is comparatively harder to treat than the other common types of thyroid cancer. That is why people should get frequent thyroid checkups to identify the first symptoms of advanced Thyroid cancer.
Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma
MTC (Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma) comprises nearly 4% of the total thyroid cancer cases. It starts from the C-cells and can sometime spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, or liver. Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) is harder to diagnose as well as to treat, and is categorically of 2 types:-
Sporadic MTC: Sporadic Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma is not a hereditary problem. It is usually found in only one of the two thyroid lobes.
Familial MTC: Familial Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma is a hereditary disease. It usually shows up in the patient’s childhood or teen years. It usually spreads to several areas in both the lobes of the thyroid gland.
Anaplastic or Undifferentiated Thyroid Cancer
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer or Undifferentiated Thyroid Cancer is one of the rarest forms of thyroid cancer. It is really difficult to treat. This type of cancer shows symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer and spreads rapidly to the neck and other organs of the body.
Common Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer does not have any distinctive symptoms. Most of the times, thyroid cancer does not show any symptoms at all till it reaches a really advanced stage.
However, there are some common symptoms of thyroid cancer that, if present, people should take seriously. A patient should especially take the common symptoms of thyroid cancer seriously if he has been experiencing other symptoms of thyroid problems.
What are the common symptoms of thyroid cancer?
- Swelling in the neck: Doctors consider a lump near the throat or a swelling in the neck as one of the most common symptoms of thyroid cancer.f
- Pain: In medical history, doctors have noticed that there are no specific distinguishing symptoms of thyroid cancer. If at all, the most common symptoms of thyroid cancer would be the feeling of pain in the neck that sometimes extends up to the ear. This is also one of the first symptoms of thyroid cancer.
- Hoarse Voice: Another one of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer in patients is that they experience hoarseness in their voice that does not seem to go away.
- Difficulty in Swallowing: Sometimes, the cancerous lump in the thyroid becomes large in size and presses against the oesophagus. Therefore, this leads to one of the more common symptoms of thyroid cancer – which is difficulty in swallowing food.
- Difficulty in Breathing: Sometimes, the cancerous thyroid nodules grow in size. Then, they start to press against the trachea of the patient. This leads to another one of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer where the patient experiences difficulty in breathing normally.
- Constant Coughing: One can consider a persistent cough to be one of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer. If you are experiencing a cough that persists for no particular reason, combined with other common symptoms of thyroid cancer, you should consider seeing your doctor as early as possible.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer in Females
Women experience thyroid problems more commonly than men. 4 out of 5 thyroid cancer patients are females. Therefore, symptoms of thyroid cancer in females are also more common as compared to symptoms of thyroid cancer in males.
Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma is more common in grown women than men. Therefore, the symptoms of thyroid cancer in females, especially of the papillary type, are more common. Some common symptoms of thyroid cancer in females are:-
- Lump or swelling in the neck
- Hoarseness in wife
- Difficulty in breathing and swallowing
- Pain in the neck that sometimes extends up to the ear
- Slur in the speech
- Unexplained and persistent cough
Thyroid cancer is two to three times more common in women as compared to men. Therefore, one must always watch out for symptoms of thyroid cancer in females.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer in Males
Thyroid cancer is twice to thrice as common in women as compared to men. Therefore, thyroid patients who are men should not ignore the symptoms of thyroid cancer in males.
In general, there are no specific or common symptoms of thyroid cancer in males. In most cases, patients only notice the symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer. This is because the first symptoms of thyroid cancer do not show up in early stages. Therefore, men should look out for the first symptoms of thyroid cancer in males, which are:-
- Lump or swelling in the neck region: This symptom of thyroid cancer in males is not visible until at a later stage. A doctor can find a lump upon a physical examination.
- Difficulty in swallowing, breathing, and speaking: This is one of the symptoms of thyroid cancer in males. If the cancerous lump grows in size, it may press against the larynx, the trachea, and the esophagus. Therefore, males may experience slur in their speech, and difficulty while breathing and swallowing food.
- Consistent cough that does not go away
Physical Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
There are no specific physical symptoms of thyroid cancer. The most common physical symptom of thyroid cancer is the presence of a swelling in the neck region. However, this welling is different from a goiter.
Goiter is caused when thyroid tissue expands beyond its normal size. Lumps may also appear if there are multiple large thyroid nodules in a patient’s thyroid gland. However, cancerous nodules account for only 1% of all thyroid nodules as most thyroid nodules are benign.
Therefore, a thorough physical examination by a doctor is necessary to determine the presence of a thyroid cancer. It should also be accompanied with an FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration) test of the thyroid nodule cells. This is a more reliable way to find out any physical symptoms of thyroid cancer.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
The physical symptoms of thyroid cancer appear that we have discussed in the section above start to become noticeable to caution only after the cancer has advanced. That is why there are no specific early signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer.
That is why people should get thyroid function tests and routine physical examinations to check for thyroid issues. Thyroid symptoms in females are way more common than thyroid symptoms in men. Women are in general thrice as likely to have thyroid problems. Therefore, women should routinely check for thyroid issues.
Symptoms of Advanced Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer, in most cases, has a really good prognosis. The treatment in almost all of the cases of thyroid cancer has been successful. In the advanced stages of the cancer, the thyroid cancer metastasizes to the lymph nodes, the neck, and sometimes the lungs.
The common symptoms of thyroid cancer become more visible and persistent when the patient’s thyroid cancer advances. The lump in the patient’s neck becomes visible, and the hoarseness in the voice seems to have become permanent. The patient experiences difficulty in breathing and swallowing.
Symptoms of Advanced Thyroid Cancer of the medullary type are:-
- Severe diarrhea: The cancerous tumor in thyroid starts to produce high levels of hormone calcitonin, which leads to severe diarrhea in some cases.
- Cushing syndrome: Although of Cushing syndrome cases, only 5% are a result of thyroid cancer. In Cushing syndrome, the tumor begins to secrete hormones that the thyroid normally does not create. Because of this, the patient starts to have fat deposits in the upper back and the waist, high blood pressure, etc.
- Facial flushing: Sometimes, the patient may experience redness on their face, neck and chest accompanied by some pain. However, the facial flushing in the patient can also be the result of taking certain medication.
- Bone pain: If the thyroid cancer has spread to form lesions of the bone, the patient may experience pain in their bones as well.
- Lethargy: Fatigue and lethargy are common symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer.
- Weight loss: The patient also undergoing an unexplained weight loss is also one of the symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer.
First Symptom of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid Cancer does not have specific symptoms or signs that alarm patients of this condition. Thyroid Cancer is not a very common condition and the symptoms only start to show when the cancer has reached an advanced stage. The first symptoms of thyroid cancer are often ignored because of this lack of awareness.
The growth of a lump or a swelling in the neck is usually the first symptom of thyroid cancer. A growth in the thyroid could also be because of Goiter or a grown thyroid nodule. Thyroid nodules are common and can grow large in size, but most of them are benign (non-cancerous) and only 1% of them are malignant (cancerous).
However, patients should get a physical examination of the neck as soon as they experience an unusual growth in the neck. Apart from that, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, an unexplained cough, and growing hoarseness in voice are common first symptoms of thyroid cancer.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer Spreading to lungs
Thyroid cancer, if it spreads quickly or is not diagnosed in the early stages, can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body. It is not rare for thyroid cancer to spread to the lungs of the patients. However, thyroid cancer does not mutate into lung cancer and is termed as ‘Thyroid Cancer in the lungs’.
The physical symptoms of thyroid cancer spreading to lungs remain the same as that of thyroid cancer. However, patients in the past have described that their cough became more acute. They also started to experience chest pain, but doctors have regarded that as a natural stress response.
If a thyroid cancer patient experiences acute shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and visibly worsened cough, they should consider getting a thorough checkup.
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