Thyroid cancer, a solid tumour cancer, occurs as a nodule or mass in the thyroid gland found at the throat's front base. It results from rogue cells that reproduce too quickly for the immune system to manage. Thyroid cancer is of different types, with the most common ones being follicular thyroid and papillary thyroid cancer. 1% to 2% of individuals are likely to get thyroid cancer. Though the cancer is more common in women than in men, thyroid cancer symptoms in females are the same as in males.
What are the thyroid cancer symptoms in females?
Thyroid cancer symptoms in females can vary from one woman to another and include the following:
- A nodule or lump in the neck front
- Swelling in the neck or thyroid enlargement
- Persistent cough
- Swallowing issues
- Cough with blood
- Breathing problems
Thyroid cancer facts
More than half the cases occur in people under 55
Although thyroid cancer is rare in young individuals, most patients are under 55 years of age. Around 2% of the cases are common in teenagers and children. Experts say thyroid cancer mainly affects women between 15 and 29 years of age. It is the second most common form of cancer, after breast cancer, for women between ages 30 and 39.
Risks are higher for women
More than 75% of cases of thyroid cancer occur in women. There is a correlation between more cases of thyroid cancer in women between menopause and puberty. There are no conclusive results on whether this correlation is related to hormones.
As per studies, estrogen is one of the common growth factors for both malignant and benign thyroid cells. This further suggests gender plays a significant role in the occurrence of thyroid nodules that cause thyroid cancer. Nevertheless, more research is necessary.
Thyroid cancer comes in many forms
Different forms of thyroid cancer include papillary, follicular, anaplastic and medullary thyroid cancer. Approximately 80% of cases of thyroid cancers are papillary carcinoma, the most common and least aggressive type of cancer. This cancer grows slowly and develops in just one of the two lobes in the thyroid gland.
While there is a strong chance for papillary thyroid cancer to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, it is rarely fatal and is easy to treat. Follicular thyroid cancer is found in 25% of patients and behaves more aggressively than other forms of thyroid cancer. Medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancers occur in less than 2% of patients.
Factors associated with thyroid cancer
Some risk factors associated with thyroid cancer are radiation therapy for neck and head cancer, radioactive fallout exposure from power plant accidents or nuclear weapon testing, enlarged goitre or thyroid, and an iodine-deficient diet. Factors also include a family history of thyroid disorder or cancer, gene changes that lead to endocrine disorders, like type 2B (MEN2B) syndrome or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A), thyroiditis or thyroid gland inflammation, and high body mass index or obesity.
Ultrasound can be used to diagnose thyroid cancer
Doctors prescribe a thyroid ultrasound to diagnose any inflammation in the neck. This helps them understand more about thyroid nodules.
Just as with a normal ultrasound, the doctor places a wand-like device in front of the thyroid gland. This creates high-frequency sound waves that further make a picture of the thyroid and any nodules.
An ultrasound will show the doctor if the nodule contains fluid or if it is solid. The solid ones are more cancerous, but more tests are required to confirm this. The ultrasound also shows the number of nodules on the thyroid and their size.
Thyroid cancer can also be diagnosed with PET scans
A PET scan is useful to find out whether the thyroid cancer has spread to other body parts or not. The scan picks up other abnormal areas in the thyroid gland. In that case, additional tests are necessary to diagnose thyroid cancer.
It is a combination of PET and CT scans that takes several x-rays from throughout the body and assimilates them to make a 3D image. The scans use mildly radioactive medicine to highlight areas of the body where thyroid cells are more active than normal.
Surgery is usually the first treatment
Surgery is the initial treatment for all forms of thyroid cancer except anaplastic thyroid cancer. It is known as thyroidectomy, and it removes either half or the entire thyroid gland based on features like the patient's age and size, location and number of nodules.
Risks of thyroidectomy include damage to the nerves that connect the vocal cords, causing soft voices, difficulty breathing and hoarseness.
A thyroidectomy means a lifetime of medication
Someone with a complete thyroidectomy must take medicines to replace thyroid hormone to maintain normal body metabolism. This hormone therapy stops the growth of remaining cancerous cells by reducing TSH levels.
Doctors test the patient's hormone levels with blood tests every few months to determine the correct dose of medicine.
Radioactive iodine is a common treatment for hyperthyroidism
Radioactive iodine or nuclear medicine treatment treats an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. In some cases, it can also treat thyroid cancer symptoms in females. It involves taking a small dose of radioactive iodine I-131 in liquid or pill form. This iodine isotope emits radiation and gets quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Once concentrated by the thyroid gland, it starts destroying gland cells.
Chemo and external beam radiation therapy aren't as common
External beam therapy and chemotherapy are not the most common treatments for thyroid cancer, but they might be useful for patients who do not respond to radioactive iodine therapy. Both these therapies are also useful when the thyroid cancer has spread to the other parts of the body or the experts cannot remove the tumour surgically.
Thyroid cancer symptoms in females have doubled over the years. Thus, they should keep everything stated above in mind and visit an expert as soon as any symptom appears. The expert can diagnose it correctly and start the necessary treatment. All patients with thyroid cancer must follow everything their general physicians and oncologists say to get better faster.