Thyroid cancer comes in four forms: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. These begin as a small lump (or nodule) on the thyroid, a gland in the neck that controls the metabolism. There are several different standard treatments for thyroid cancer, each largely dependant on the type, how advanced it is, and how large it is.
Nodules form quite often, but the vast majority of them are benign. Even when they are cancerous, most patients recover very well. One of the most common options is to surgically remove the nodule and the thyroid along with it. If the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes, those come out as well. If the nodule is very small, only a part of the thyroid may need to be removed. The parathyroid gland is so close to the thyroid, some tissue will sometimes be left so the parathyroids aren’t harmed, as damage to these can result in a calcium deficiency. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, those may be removed at the same time.
All the general risks of surgery are present in a thyroidectomy, as well as some specific to the operation. Besides issues with the parathyroid glands, it is possible for the vocal cord nerves to be damaged, which can cause paralysis of the cords, a soft or hoarse voice, or difficulty breathing. In addition, it will be necessary to take thyroid hormone therapy medication, possibly for the rest of your life, although some people find that they are able to maintain without it. This replaces the hormone your thyroid produces and prevents the pituitary gland (which controls the thyroid from the brain) from producing too much thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which could potentially make the cancer cells grow back.
Radioactive Iodine Therapy
The thyroid is the only part of the body that absorbs iodine. As such, a capsule or liquid dose of radioactive iodine can be taken to kill off any left over thyroid tissue or any cancerous cells that remained behind. It is sometimes used if the thyroid cancer reoccurs. There is very little chance of damage to the rest of the body, since only the thyroid will absorb the iodine, and what’s remaining is excreted through the urine.
During the process, you may experience nausea, a dry mouth or eyes, pain where the cancer cells have spread, and things may taste or smell funny. You may also have to be secluded for a few days, especially staying away from kids or pregnant women.
External radiation therapy is for those who cannot undergo surgery and do not respond to radioactive iodine therapy. Specific spots on the body receive beams of radiation from a machine five days a week for five weeks, a few minutes at a time.
Chemotherapy may also be an option for thyroid cancers that don’t respond to other treatments. The chemicals are injected directly into the veins. Chemotherapy comes with a lot of severe side effects, making you feel very ill and generally resulting in massive hair loss.
If the cancerous nodule is very small, recurring, or in an area difficult to get to via surgery, alcohol ablation may be an option. Using ultrasound technology to see, alcohol is injected into the tumor. Targeted drug therapy uses medications like cabozantinib, sorafenib, or vandetanib to interfere with the cancer cells growth and division in very advanced cases.
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