Your thyroid gland is located at the base of your neck, and it produces the hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism. Thyroid cancer affects this gland, so the symptoms are throat and neck related.
Thyroid cancer is most common in people in their 30s and people over 60.
Women are two to three times more likely to develop it than men.
There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary carcinoma, follicular carcinoma, medullary thyroid carcinoma, and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma.
Papillary carcinoma accounts for eight in 10 cases of thyroid cancer and it normally affects people under 40 – particularly women.
Follicular carcinoma is the next most prevalent, and also affects middle-age women the most.
Medullary thyroid carcinoma can run in families, and anapaestic thyroid carcinoma is extremely rare and normally found in people over 60.
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Thyroid cancer symptoms
Thyroid cancer symptoms include:
• a painless lump or swelling in the front of the neck – although only 1 in 20 neck lumps are cancer
• swollen glands in the neck
• unexplained hoarseness that does not get better after a few weeks
• a sore throat that does not get better
• difficulty swallowing
The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a neck lump that is normally painless.
This lump will often be found low down in the front of the neck, but this symptom is really common and usually caused by a less serious condition such as goitre.
Only one in 20 neck lumps are cancer, but you should still visit your GP if you have swelling or a lump at the front of your neck.
Your neck lump is more likely to be cancer if it feels firm, doesn’t move around easily under the skin and is growing.
On top of these symptoms, thyroid cancer can affect the production of thyroid hormones.
This can cause reactions such as diarrhoea and flushing.
Again, these symptoms could be related to unserious health concerns.
Nevertheless, if you are worried you should visit your GP to get the all clear.
Your GP will examine your neck and organise a blood test to see how your thyroid is working.
You may be referred to a hospital specialist for more tests.
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Causes of thyroid cancer
Thyroid cancer occurs when there’s a change to the DNA inside your thyroid cells.
This causes them to grow unconditionally and produce a lump.
There are a number of things that can increase your risk of this change, including:
• other thyroid conditions, such as an inflamed thyroid (thyroiditis) or goitre – but not an overactive thyroid or under active thyroid
• a family history of thyroid cancer – your risk is higher if a close relative has had thyroid cancer
• radiation exposure in childhood – such as radiotherapy
• a bowel condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
• acromegaly – a rare condition where the body produces too much growth hormone
How to look after your thyroid gland
According to the You and Your Hormones site, iodine is the most essential ingredient to maintain a healthy thyroid.
You don’t need a lot of iodine, and it is said that “one teaspoon of iodine is enough for a lifetime.”
However, you do need a constant daily supply of this micronutrient.
You can get this in seafood and dairy products, or season your food with iodised salt.
Too much iodine is counter-productive and causes your thyroid to produce fewer hormones, so it’s important to find a healthy balance.
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