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Thyroid Cancer


What does your thyroid gland do?

Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the front area of your neck. Each wing, or lobe, of the gland is located on either side of your windpipe. The job of the thyroid gland is to make, store and release thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. The thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) control your body’s metabolism and organ performance. These hormones affect your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. There are different reasons that your thyroid gland may not work properly. For example, if your thyroid gland is not able to make enough thyroid hormone your body will become less active. In this situation the thyroid gland is under-active and this is called being hypothyroid. On the other hand, your thyroid gland can be over-active and producing too much thyroid hormone. This increases your body activity and is called being hyperthyroid. The control of your thyroid hormone levels begins in the brain where a gland known as the hypothalamus produces thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH). The job of TRH is to trigger another gland located just outside the base of the brain called the pituitary to ‘release’ thyrotropin stimulating hormone (TSH). Finally, TSH ‘stimulates’ the thyroid gland to secrete T3 and T4 thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones then travel to other organs performing their actions throughout the body. When thyroid hormones are at an appropriate level in the blood the hypothalamus and pituitary detect this, slowing their production of TRH and TSH respectively. This ‘negative feedback loop’ is crucial to maintaining control of thyroid hormones. Therefore, if a person is hyperthyroid, T3 and T4 will be high but TSH will be low. If a person is hypothyroid, however, the opposite will be true and T3 and T4 will be low but TSH will be high.


What is well-differentiated thyroid cancer?

Our bodies are made up of millions of cells. Cells are the building blocks that make up different tissues and organs, such as skin, bones, the heart, the thyroid gland and so on. Normally, healthy cells form new cells when the body needs them and when these cells get damaged or old they die and are replaced by new ones. This constant cycle is tightly controlled but if for some reason cells continue to form when the body does not need them or they do not die when they should, these abnormal cells form a tumour. Thyroid cancer is a cancerous tumour found in the thyroid gland. There are several types of thyroid cancers occurring in different cells of the thyroid gland. Medullary, Hürthle cell, anaplastic and thyroid lymphoma are less common types while papillary and follicular are more common. Together papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are referred to as well-differentiated thyroid cancer (WDTC).

Papillary Thyroid Cancer (PTC)

§ PTC is the most common thyroid cancer in which cancer cells tend to invade into nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body (malignant)

§ Accounts for 80% of WDTCs

§ Spreads via the lymph nodes & its vessels; also via blood vessels to bones and lungs

§ Most PTCs are identified in early stages & have excellent survival rates after timely diagnosis and subsequent treatment

Follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC)

§ Spreads faster than PTC

§ Occurrence of FTC increases with age

§ Tends to spread via blood vessels to bones, leading to broken bones/fractures

§ Tends to concentrate iodine (useful for radiation therapy)

As with any type of cancer, well-differentiated thyroid cancer can sometimes come back or spread to other parts of the body, even after many years. For this reason, doctors recommend that patients who have been diagnosed with WDTC receive routine check-ups for a long time after treatment.

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