Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, following only lung cancer. Thyroid cancer occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone that begins to damage the surrounding tissues. Its symptoms can be difficult to spot at first, but they eventually become apparent, causing death if left untreated. Most often, the early symptoms of thyroid cancer are weight loss, depression, or swelling of the neck, face, hands, or feet.
A doctor may choose to perform a thyroidectomy or remove the entire thyroid gland. Removing the entire thyroid gland is known as a total thyroidectomy. The procedure is relatively quick and relatively painless, but it still causes certain side effects that can threaten the patient’s health after recovery from the operation. The most common side effect from thyroidectomy is the enlargement of the spleen or lymph nodes in the abdominal area. Other symptoms include sweating and frequent urination.
Some patients with medullary thyroid cancer or another type of thyroid cancer experience symptoms that seem to be symptoms of other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unexplained fever, constipation, or anorexia. Because the thyroid gland produces both testosterone and estrogen, it can produce the hormone prolactin, which can mimic the symptoms of menopause. Women who undergo tamoxifen therapy, an FDA approved therapy for female breast cancer, may also develop symptoms of hormone replacement therapy, or menopause.
Tonsils and armpits may also be affected by anaplastic thyroid carcinomas. In these cases, symptoms tend to be: hoarseness, loss of voice, increased or decreased sweating, and increased tiredness. These symptoms are often mistaken for that of high blood pressure or fatigue. The enlarged thyroid nodules on the tonsils or adenoids can be felt when touched. In some cases, lymph nodes in the neck area may become enlarged or tender.
The symptoms of anaplastic thyroid cancer occur primarily in older adults. However, it has been noted to occasionally occur in younger children or adolescents. Occasionally, symptoms occur in both genders. If thyroid cancer occurs in women, symptoms are often very difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions. Some of the more common symptoms of anaplastic thyroid cancer include weight gain, hair loss, poor appetite, constipation, swelling of the legs, slow wound healing, and constant tiredness.
Papillary thyroid cancer occurs when the follicles of follicle ducts are surrounded by a sheath of undissolved or partially liquid material. The disease often begins to cause problems when the follicles are blocked. The undissolved material that surrounds the follicles may eventually become inflamed. At this point, the fluid and partially solidifies around the follicular cells. Some follicular cells die as a result of this infection.
Another form of medullary thyroid cancer occurs in the lymph nodes. Medullary thyroid cancer can begin in any portion of the lymphatic system, but most often occurs in the neck area. Sometimes, lymph nodes in the neck also become affected by the disease. A person with lymph node cancer may experience unexplained fever, night sweats, unexplained jaundice, and malaise. A positive HIV test may help to identify the lymph nodes affected by thyroid cancer.
Metastatic thyroid cancer occurs when cancer travels through the body and then starts to attack healthy tissue. Symptoms of this type of cancer are usually more intense than those of follicular thyroid cancer. However, treatment is similar for both types. Treatment options depend on the severity of the illness and whether cancer has spread to any of the lymph nodes or the neck.
Genetic syndromes include conditions that affect a person’s DNA but are outside of the thyroid gland. Examples include Williams Syndrome and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). These genetic syndromes have similar signs and symptoms to that of thyroid cancer but have different causes. Examples of genetic syndromes include Turner’s syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, and Klinefelter Syndrome.
The symptoms for diffuse nodular scars may vary widely from one case to another. However, most people with thyroid cancers experience both neck and lymph nodes symptoms. Diagnosis is made by performing a biopsy that uses a tool called a lymph node extractor. A small piece of tissue from the neck or lymph nodes is removed and examined under a microscope to determine if any cancer cells are present.
Occasionally, thyroid cancer occurs in the absence of any other medical conditions. When this happens, it is generally assumed that the condition began without warning and progressed over time. A classic example is that of Hashimoto’s disease, which occurs when antibodies to the thyroid are unusually raised. Hashimoto’s Disease also commonly affects the lungs, kidneys, heart, bones, and gastrointestinal tract. When thyroid cancer occurs in conjunction with any of these organs, additional tests must be conducted to determine if the diagnosis is correct.