About the Condition
The thyroid gland consists of two lobes located on either side of the windpipe. Its main purpose is to release hormones (chemicals that have powerful effects on many different functions of the body).Thyroid cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the gland become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the thyroid and move to other parts of the body. This is one of a group of diseases known as head and neck cancers.
Thyroid cancer is a rare form of cancer, accounting for less than 1% of all cancer cases in the UK*. Each year, around 2,700 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the UK*. It’s most common in people aged 35 to 39 years and in those aged 70 years or over*. Women are two to three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men. It’s unclear why this is, but it may be a result of the hormonal changes associated with the female reproductive system. The precise causes of thyroid cancer are unknown, but certain risk factors have been identified as including:
- Having a thyroid condition
- Having a family history of thyroid cancer
- Having a bowel condition known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Having acromegaly (a rare condition where the body produces too much growth hormone)
- Having previous benign breast conditions
- Being overweight
- Previous exposure to radiation
In its early stages, thyroid cancer tends to cause no or very few symptoms, although the main noticeable symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling at the front of the neck just below your Adam’s apple, which is usually painless. Other symptoms of thyroid cancer only tend to occur after the condition has reached an advanced stage, and may include:
- unexplained hoarseness that doesn’t get better after a few weeks
- a sore throat or difficulty swallowing that doesn’t get better
- pain in your neck
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Because the symptoms of thyroid cancer tend not to appear until the disease has progressed, it is vital that diagnosis is swift and accurate. Tests may include:
- A thyroid function test, where a blood test is used to check whether the swelling in your neck is caused by other problems with your thyroid gland
- A fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC), which is where A small needle is inserted into the lump in your neck to allow a tiny sample of cells to be removed. The sample is then studied under a microscope
- An Ultrasound scan, which uses high frequency sound waves to look inside the body and produce live images on a computer display
- A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, which is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
- A Computerised Tomography (CT) scan, which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at
At CCL patients with thyroid cancer are usually treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Treatment could involve:
- Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy)
- A type of radiotherapy called radioactive iodine treatment, which is designed to destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent the thyroid cancer returning
- Standard radiotherapy, which is where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
- Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.
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