Medullary thyroid cancer is the third most common type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland. Read more about its types, symptoms, causes, and treatment here.
The thyroid is an endocrine organ that is shaped like a butterfly and located inside the lower side of the front of the neck. It controls metabolism and helps release thyroid hormones that help in various functions of the body like managing the heart rate, the temperature of the body, blood pressure, and weight.
Cancer-related to thyroid develops when the cells start to change in shape and size, also sometimes the function. It converts into a tumor when enough cells have mutated. It is treatable if caught in the early stages.
According to research, the following types have been mentioned:
Papillary Thyroid Cancer - It is the most common type and grows slowly and has a better prognosis.
Follicular Thyroid Cancer - This can affect the lymph nodes and blood vessels.
Medullary Cancer - This can be diagnosed in the early stages due to the production of calcitonin which is checked during routine blood tests.
Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer - It is rare but aggressive in nature. It is difficult to treat this type of cancer.
Thyroid cancer may show the following symptoms in the patient:
Anonymous cough that is constant.
Voice changes like hoarseness.
A lump that grows fast in the front of the neck.
Radiating pain from neck to ears.
Swollen glands without pain in the neck.
Even red faces and loose motions can be an indication of this type of cancer. It is not necessary that these symptoms are always indicative of cancer, and also, these cancers don't need to be always symptomatic.
A lump seen or felt in the thyroid can be due to an infection or a goiter, which need not be cancerous at all.
1) Gender and Age
Women are three times more prone to develop this tumor than men. Individuals can develop it at any age, but most of the diagnosis in women happens during their 40s, and 50s and men belong to the age of 60 to 70.
2) Radiation Exposure
Radiation therapy, like done for lymphoma, especially in children, can make the children more prone to develop thyroid cancer.
Genetic and hereditary history puts the individual at risk of developing thyroid cancer. The following genetic disorders are also involved in risk factors: Cowden disease, Familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2.
4) Inadequate Iodine in Diet
When you visit your physician, initially, he or she will ask questions regarding symptoms and medical history followed by physical examination where you will be examined for lumps in the neck or any other swellings.
Then you will be sent for blood tests for differential diagnosis. Genetic testing may also be done depending on your family history or radiation therapies. A thyroid biopsy or biopsy of the lump or swelling can be done to come to a definitive diagnosis. Fine-needle aspiration cytology may be preferred.
If required, an ultrasound will be done to check for the soft tissue lesions. Radioiodine scan to check for the radiation-related to the thyroid or other parts of the body. CT Scan, PET scan can also be preferred to locate and study thyroid cancer.
Based on all these test results, your physician will come to a final diagnosis of cancer or not.
Thyroid cancer can be treated due to development in the medical field, and also, if diagnosed in the early stages, it has a very good prognosis.
The management may include medical management, radiotherapy, or if required, surgical removal may be done.
Thyroid cancer is managed using surgery more commonly. If complete removal of the thyroid gland is done, it is called a thyroidectomy. Partial removal of the thyroid gland is called a lobectomy. Sometimes, there can be the removal of adjacent lymph nodes and tissues due to the involvement of the tumor.
2) Radioactive Iodine Ablation
Iodine absorption is a feature of the thyroid gland and most thyroid cancers. Radioactive iodine (RAI) ablation is used to destroy the cancer cells that remain after surgical removal. This is because the cancer cells can absorb his radiation. Certain instructions will be given to you, like a change in the diet wherein you will be asked to limit the intake of iodine at least for two weeks, and people on thyroid hormone therapy may need to stop it for a while.
3) Thyroid Hormone Therapy
Thyroid hormone pills can be consumed after the complete removal of thyroid glands. These pills also help in limiting the growth and progression of leftover cancerous cells. The mode of action is by lowering the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
4) Other Treatment Strategies
The following methods are preferred in rare forms of cancer:
External beam radiation (X-ray therapy): In this, the radiation is used to kill the cancer cells. The procedure follows for several weeks, and all precautionary measures are taken to avoid radiation exposure to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy utilizes chemicals or medicines to kill cancer cells or limit their growth and progression.
Targeted therapy: This is a newer treatment strategy where a pill is consumed to limit the growth or destroy cancer cells, and there are fewer side-effects than chemotherapy.
The treatment is decided by the physician based on the type of cancer and its location and extent to give you a better prognosis and complete and best possible treatment depending on the individual.
Medullary thyroid cancer has various forms and can be managed if diagnosed during the early stages. Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers have a good prognosis if diagnosed early. Consult your physician if you have any doubts or develop any mentioned symptoms. Online medical platforms have made the consultation process very easy. Hence, you can contact a specialist at the ease of your home.
Last reviewed at:
22 Feb 2021 - 4 min read
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