Thyroid Cancer & The Benefits of a Second Opinion

Cancer of the central nervous system and its surroundings consists of tumors that are located intracranially (in the brain) and intraspinally (in the spinal cord). The concept of cancer of the central nervous system is not unambiguous, and includes a number of different tumors with different origins, which require different treatment and which have very different prognoses. A more comprehensive term is tumor in the central nervous system, some of which must be characterized as cancer. The tumors are divided and graded according to two main principles, according to the tumor’s place of origin and growth potential / growth rate.

Surgeons removing thyroid cancer in theatre

Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in the thyroid gland begin to grow out of control.

Thyroid cancer can form in any part of the thyroid. Which type of thyroid cancer is diagnosed dictates the potential recovery rate, though it is one of the most treatable, and curable cancers. It has the potential to spread to other parts of the body, but if caught in time can be removed completely. Thyroid cancers can reappear after a person has been cleared, but regular health monitoring can help to make sure it is detected early, and treatment can begin immediately.

Around 3,700 people per year are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the UK, making up 1-1.8% of all cancer diagnoses. It has a 91% one-year survival rate, and an 84% survival rate of ten years or more*. By accessing the right treatment at the right time, you can help to ensure your thyroid cancer diagnosis can be treated effectively.

The Benefits of Getting a Second Opinion for Thyroid Cancer  

It’s widely encouraged for thyroid cancer patients to get a second opinion about their diagnosis and/or treatment options.  As non-cancerous nodules in the neck are very common, you may seek confirmation or your diagnosis and want a deeper understanding of the stage of your cancer or alternatively, they can help to explore other treatments you may not have considered.

Whatever the reason, Oncolomed can help facilitate second opinions with thyroid cancer specialists from leading hospitals globally. Find out more about obtaining a second opinion for thyroid cancer and the other benefits getting a 2nd view can have.

What is Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that occurs in the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. Most cases of thyroid cancer are highly curable with good recovery rates.

The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck, just below the Adam’s Apple. It is a butterfly shaped gland which is responsible for regulating metabolism, body temperature, and other vital functions such as blood pressure, and digestive function.

There are a number of types of thyroid cancer, most of which can be cured with the right treatment. Thyroid cancers are most common in women, have the highest occurrence in people aged 30-50 and those over 65 years of age. Thyroid cancers in older people are more aggressive than those found in younger people. Thyroid cancer cases in the UK have increased by over 173% for women and over 160% for men since the early 1990s.*

There are four types of thyroid cancer which we will explore in the next section.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Papillary carcinoma

Papillary carcinoma forms in the follicular cells of the thyroid, which create and secrete hormones, and is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for 80-85% of cases. It is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, though around 20% of people who suffer with this form of thyroid cancer may suffer a reoccurrence at a later date.

Follicular carcinoma

Follicular carcinoma also forms in the follicular cells, and is slightly more aggressive than papillary carcinoma. It most often occurs in an older age range of 40-60, and has a high cure rate which decreases with age. People who have had a follicular carcinoma will often need regular health monitoring for the rest of their lives. This is to ensure that if it the cancer reoccurs it can treated early on.

Medullary thyroid carcinoma

Medullary thyroid carcinoma occurs in the parafollicular cells where the calcitonin hormone is produced. It is a less common form of thyroid cancer, which often shows no signs or symptoms initially. This type of cancer has a lower ten-year survival rate than other forms of thyroid cancer due to the increased likelihood of it spreading to the lymph nodes.

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma makes up around 1.6% of all thyroid cancer diagnoses. It is the most aggressive type of thyroid cancer and is difficult to treat.  It grows more quickly than other types of thyroid cancer, and prognosis is generally poor. However, there are a number of treatments available which can help to prolong the life of a person with this type, and make them more comfortable.

Causes of Thyroid Cancer

The cause of thyroid cancer developing is unclear, however there are a number of factors which may lead to increased risk of developing it. These include:

  • Family history of thyroid cancer
  • Some thyroid conditions such as thyroiditis, but not including an over or underactive thyroid condition
  • Suffering familial adenomatous polyposis, a bowel condition
  • Exposure to radiation, especially in childhood
  • Suffering acromegaly, a condition of overproduction of growth hormones
  • Obesity

A combination of poor lifestyle and close family history of thyroid cancer are likely to put individuals at the highest risk. Depending on your general health, age and other factors can influence the likelihood of developing thyroid cancer.

The Main Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer can be identified quickly in those showing symptoms. People with thyroid cancer may experience the following symptoms, though others may not experience any symptoms at all initially:

  • Swelling in the neck
  • Pain in the neck
  • A raised nodule or lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • A persistent cough

Thyroid cancer also occurs more often in women than men.

If you or a friend or family member are experiencing any suspected symptoms of thyroid cancer, it’s important to seek medical advice early on to ensure a correct diagnosis can be made and it can be treated at an early stage.

How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of thyroid cancer begins with a doctor’s appointment to explain your symptoms and be evaluated with a physical examination and discussion about your lifestyle and dietary habits, as well as your family history of thyroid conditions.

The next step involves a blood test which measures thyroid function and hormone levels. This may be followed with a biopsy, where a fine needle is inserted into the lump and sample cells are removed for examination. This sample should confirm the presence of cancer, and which type.

You may also undergo further testing such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI for further evaluation and prognosis as there are several stages of thyroid cancer.

If you’re going through tests for thyroid cancer, it can be a worrying time. It can be beneficial to take someone you trust to any appointments you have to support you and help you deal with any diagnosis you receive.

Stages of Thyroid Cancer

Doctors use a system called TNM to stage thyroid cancer. This stands for Tumour, Node, and Metastasis.

Tumour or T, describes the size of the tumour. There are four stages within the T stage:

T1 – Cancer is within the thyroid gland and measures 2cm or less.T1 tumours are subdivided into T1a and T1b.

T1a – Tumour is completely inside the thyroid and is up to 1cm across.

T1b – Tumour is completely inside the thyroid and is 1-2cm across.

T2 - Tumour is completely inside the thyroid and measures 2-4cm across.

T3 – T3 is divided in to T3a and T3b.

T3a – Tumour is more than 4cm across but is still inside the thyroid.

T3b – Tumour is of any size and has grown into one or more muscles behind the thyroid.

T4 – T4 is divided in to T4a and T4b.

T4a – Cancer has grown outside of the thyroid into nearby soft tissue such as the larynx or trachea.

T4b - Cancer has grown outside of the thyroid into area surrounding the spine or main blood vessels.

Node or N, describes whether the cancer has spread into lymph nodes.

N0 – Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes.

N1 – N1is divided into N1a and N1b.

N1a – Cancer has spread to lymph nodes close to the thyroid gland in the neck.

N1b – Cancer has spread to other lymph nodes in the neck or behind the throat.

M, or Metastases, describes whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

M0 – Cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

M1 – Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

It’s an important to get an accurate diagnosis of the stage of thyroid cancer as this may impact the type of treatment you receive.

Living with Thyroid Cancer

Receiving a thyroid cancer diagnosis can come as quite a shock, and may leave you feeling upset and extremely worried. It is important to get the right information about the type of thyroid cancer that has been diagnosed, and look into all treatment options available to you.

Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable and curable cancers, and the majority of people diagnosed with it go on to lead healthy lives, with regular monitoring and check-ups.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment Options  

There are a number of treatment options for thyroid cancer and the treatment or combination of treatment you receive will depend on a number of factors. At every point, it’s important to clarify that you should be in control of your treatment and have access to all available options to make an informed decision.

The type and stage of your thyroid cancer will determine the treatments offered to you. In the majority of cases it is recommended that the thyroid be removed completely. In some instances, it may be recommended that the lymph nodes in the neck are removed, or that only part of the thyroid is removed.

With increasing research being conducted and new cancer treatments being developed, treatments that you may not be able to get in your home country may be an option you want to consider:

Every situation is unique though and if you are considering a certain treatment, you should consult with your doctor to find out if what you are looking at would be an appropriate choice.

How OncoloMed Can Support Your Thyroid Cancer Treatment Journey

Oncolomed can guide and support you through your cancer treatment journey. Take a look at our patient stories to find out how we help or get in touch with us.

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Surgeons removing thyroid cancer in theatre
Cancer patient smiling with her husband, walking along a beach

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