The thyroid gland located in the front of your throat is an exceptionally import gland. The thyroid releases hormones that control a wide range of your body's functions such as heart rate, temperature, metabolism, and blood pressure. Thyroid cancer affects about 40,000 to 50,000 people every year, making it an uncommon form of cancer. A large percentage of those diagnosed with thyroid cancer are women and it can strike at most any age, although most often between the ages of 20 and 64. Thyroid cancer symptoms are actually very subtle unlike other thyroid diseases. Patients that experience the physical symptoms for longer than a couple of weeks should call their doctor. Further testing will be needed to confirm or rule out thyroid cancer.
Physical Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
The most common thyroid cancer symptoms are a direct result of the tumor growing on the thyroid gland. This tumor when large enough can be felt upon a physical examination of your neck by your doctor. You may even notice the lump yourself by feeling the front of your neck or looking in a mirror. Pressure from the growing tumor may also cause your voice to change and sound hoarse, you may have trouble swallowing, and possibility feel pain in the neck or throat. You may experience stiffness in your neck due to swollen lymph nodes.
Abnormal Blood Test Results
With a simple blood test, your doctor can determine if your thyroid is functioning normally. If your thyroid test results show you are producing too much or too little TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) this may be another symptom of thyroid cancer, or could indicate that you are developing hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. Your doctor may also test your levels of calcitonin, another hormone produced by the thyroid. Patients with medullary thyroid cancer tend to have high levels of calcitonin.
Texture of the Tumor
With an ultrasound of the neck, you doctor can see the growth of any tumors on the thyroid gland. He may even be able to rule out cancer with the results. Benign tumors (non-cancerous), also referred to as nodules, are typically filled with fluid. Tumors that appear solid can be a symptom of thyroid cancer.
Does the Thyroid Tumor Grow Brightly or Dimly?
With a thyroid scan, you will be required to swallow a small radioactive iodine pill or get an injection of the substance. The thyroid gland will absorb the iodine. Making the iodine radioactive makes the thyroid glow when scanned. This gives doctors a clearer picture of the thyroid itself and how it is functioning. If you have tumors or nodules, these will also absorb the radioactive iodine and glow. Tumors or nodules that glow as brightly or brighter then the thyroid are usually found to be benign. Tumors or nodules that glow much less brightly than the thyroid, meaning they did not absorb as much of the iodine, may be cancerous.
Your doctor will want to biopsy any suspicious looking tumors following an ultrasound and/or thyroid scan. This test will definitively tell you if you have been experiencing thyroid cancer symptoms. Two biopsy methods are available. The fine needle aspiration, where a small part of the tumor is removed with a needle, is the most common type. Some people may require a surgical biopsy where the entire tumor is surgically removed from the neck. If the biopsy shows the tumor is cancer, then the type of thyroid cancer will also be confirmed. With this information your doctor will be to discuss the best treatment for you.