About the Thyroid
We at OOA make education of our patients a big priority. We want to make sure that you as the patient are well-informed and educated about all things ENT. While you come to us as the experts in ENT Oklahoma, we want you to have a foundation of knowledge when it comes to your health.
With that in mind, this month’s blog will be dedicated to education about the thyroid and different forms of cancer that can affect the thyroid.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. It produces thyroid hormone, which controls our body’s overall metabolism.
Who get thyroid cancer and symptoms?
Thyroid cancer is fairly common—especially in women. It is in fact now one of the most common cancers found in women. Often, thyroid cancer is there without presenting any symptoms, though sometimes symptoms may present as difficulty swallowing, voice changes or a lump in the neck.
Most often, thyroid cancers are found within nodules that are either felt by the patient or by their doctor. Sometimes patients will go in with complaints specific to these nodules, but often they are found incidentally, when the patient has a radiology test not related to the thyroid.
What is a nodule?
The term thyroid nodule” refers to an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland. Although the vast majority of thyroid nodules are benign (noncancerous), a small proportion of thyroid nodules do contain thyroid cancer. In order to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer at the earliest stage, most thyroid nodules need some type of evaluation.
Abnormal thyroid function tests may occasionally be the reason a thyroid nodule is found, if not already noticed by the patient or doctor (especially if the patient came in for an appointment unrelated to anything to do with the thyroid). Sometimes, patients with thyroid nodules may complain of pain in the neck, jaw, or ear. If a nodule is large enough to compress the windpipe or esophagus, it may cause difficulty with breathing, swallowing, or cause a “tickle in the throat”. Even less commonly, hoarseness can be caused if the nodule invades the nerve that controls the vocal cords but this is usually related to thyroid cancer.
It is important to mention that the presence of a nodule does not necessarily mean that there is cancer present. This is why it is especially important to always come in and see your ENT to find out for sure.
Types of Thyroid Cancer
There are several types of thyroid cancer. The most common form of thyroid cancer is papillary thyroid cancer, which has good prognosis, typically. Follicular thyroid cancer is another type, and overall typically has a good overall prognosis as well.
Medullary thyroid cancer is a form of thyroid cancer that develops from cells in the thyroid gland and is different from papillary and follicular thyroid cancers. While the prognosis with medullary cancer is not as favorable when compared with papillary and follicular thyroid cancers, it is also much less common (only between five to 10 percent of all thyroid cancers). Medullary thyroid carcinoma can be associated with several inherited syndromes but in most cases happen in patients without any family history.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the least common type of thyroid cancer, but is very aggressive. This cancer often grows very quickly and requires a multidisciplinary medical team to determine the best treatment plan.
The most important point to remember is: The best way to find a thyroid nodule is to make sure your doctor checks your neck. We are experts in throat care and more.