Thyroid cancer affects the cells of the thyroid gland. In its earliest stages, thyroid cancer may exhibit no noticeable symptoms. As the tumor progresses, a number of early warning signs develop. Because of these characteristic symptoms, thyroid cancer is normally diagnosed and successfully treated early on. Certain portions of the population have a higher probability of developing thyroid cancer.
The thyroid gland is a small gland located at the front of the neck. Its main function is the production of three thyroid hormones: thyroxine, triiodothryronine, and calcitonin. These hormones play an important role in metabolism regulation, the proper functioning of other endocrine hormones, and maintaining the body's calcium balance.
In its earliest stages, an individual with thyroid cancer will experience no symptoms. As the tumor grows, they will develop a swelling or small lump at the front of their neck. While the thyroid gland can sometimes develop non-cancerous lumps, these nodule-like swellings are usually the first indication of thyroid cancer.
As thyroid cancer progresses, a number of early warning signs develop, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include difficulty swallowing and breathing. The individual's breathing may take on a wheezing sound and they may sound as if they are losing their voice. A mild, persistent cough and neck pain that sometimes extends into the inner ears are also common early signs.
While anyone could develop thyroid cancer, some groups of the population have a significantly higher risk of developing the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include Caucasian women over the age of 30 and people who have experienced either severe or low-level but long-term exposure to nuclear radiation, including people who have undergone radiation therapy for other cancers. The incidence of thyroid cancer has also been linked to certain inheritable medical syndromes that run in families.
Thyroid cancer may be diagnosed in a number of ways, according to the Mayo Clinic. A biopsy of the thyroid tissue may taken either with a biopsy needle or through a surgical procedure. Certain types of scans, such as ultrasonography or a nuclear medicine scan that utilizes radioactive materials to highlight the thyroid, can allow a physician to clearly see the gland. Blood tests that determine the levels of thyroid hormones circulating in the body are also commonly used as a diagnostic tool.