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Thyroid Cancer

  • What is thyroid cancer?

    The thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck, below the larynx (voice box). It produces hormones that regulate various important metabolic processes in the body.

    Thyroid cancer is the abnormal growth of tissue in the thyroid gland. This growth is called a nodule and develops when the cells in the thyroid gland divide uncontrollably to produce extra tissue. These nodules can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Thyroid nodules need to be carefully evaluated and diagnosed in order to tell the difference between benign nodules (most thyroid nodules) and malignant ones. The malignant types of thyroid cancers include:

    • Anaplastic carcinoma
    • Follicular carcinoma
    • Medullary carcinoma
    • Papillary carcinoma
  • The exact cause of thyroid nodules remains unknown. However, risk factors that can increase the chance of their development are:

    • Exposure to radiation treatments, especially to the head and neck area.
    • Other risk factors include a family history of thyroid nodules, gender (women are more prone to thyroid cancer than men), and a diet low in iodine.
    • Some inflammatory thyroid disorders, including goitre (enlargement of the thyroid gland), hypothyroidism, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune condition that causes hypothyroidism).
  • The symptoms of thyroid cancer depend on the type of cancer, but most thyroid nodules, benign or malignant, have the following general symptoms:

    • Constipation or diarrhoea
    • Difficulty swallowing or breathing (in severe cases)
    • Hoarseness of voice and voice changes
    • Lump in the neck that moves with swallowing
  • Surgery is the main treatment for malignant thyroid nodules that are large and growing quickly. Treatment for thyroid cancer include:

    • Conventional, open thyroidectomy to remove half or the whole thyroid gland through a cut in the lower mid neck
    • Robotic thyroidectomy, an advanced robotic surgery, to completely remove the thyroid gland without a cut in the neck. The point of entry for this surgery is in the armpit instead of the neck, therefore no visible neck scar would be seen after the surgery
    • Radioiodine treatment or radiotherapy which might be needed after surgery. Radioactive iodine, in liquid or capsule form, is consumed to destroy any thyroid tissue left in the body while leaving no harm to any other types of tissue.
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