The thyroid is a ductless gland at the base of the neck that secretes hormones that regulate many bodily functions including metabolism and growth. An overactive thyroid can lead to various conditions including thyroid cancer, though not all thyroid growths are malignant. Cancers that develop in the thyroid include follicular, papillary, medullary, anaplastic, and hurthle cell cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of thyroid cancer has tripled over the past 30 years.
Unfortunately, thyroid cancer is one of many diseases that can be devoid of any symptoms in the early stages, while the body continues to correct hormonal fluctuations caused by malfunctioning of the thyroid gland. As you will see from the signs of thyroid cancer, even when a person becomes symptomatic, many of the effects can easily be mistaken for a mild illness. This can sometimes cause delays in diagnosis.
Coughing can have a vast number of causes, but if it is persistent and other symptoms of thyroid cancer are also present, it could be a sign of this disease. A nodule or a cancerous growth can trigger coughing, as can the pain from the pressure of a tumor in the neck. Thyroid cancers that cause coughing are often on the back side of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is close to the larynx or voice box. A growing thyroid tumor may press on the larynx, creating hoarseness and other voice changes. When voice changes or hoarseness continue for an extended period or occurs without any related illness, it should be assessed by a medical professional. As with any type of cancer or serious disease, early detection is a key factor in treatment success.
Pain in the neck or throat may indicate benign or malignant thyroid growth, especially if it develops in conjunction with other symptoms of thyroid cancer. It is important to remember that many conditions, including infections and strep throat, can also cause this symptom. If the sensation persists, however, it is best to see a doctor.
The esophagus connects the throat to the stomach and begins just below the trachea, close to the thyroid gland. Any pressure on the thyroid can make swallowing difficult and lead to a choking feeling while eating or trying to swallow anything. It can also give the sensation of a lump in the throat. Difficulty swallowing is a symptom that needs immediate evaluation. It can have a variety of causes, some of which are serious.
Swollen lymph nodes can indicate a few different conditions, one of which is thyroid cancer. Lymph nodes exist throughout the body, but the ones located below the jawbone will be affected by this disease. These nodes often become enlarged when they are working to help the body fight off infections, but this growth can also indicate various forms of cancer, including thyroid cancer. If they do not return to their normal size once an infection or illness has passed, speak to a doctor.
Any nodule or tumor on the thyroid gland can place pressure on the windpipe. This pressure can cause wheezing when a person tries to take deep breaths, and can also adversely affect the amount of air one can take in. Wheezing, in isolation, does not indicate thyroid cancer, but it can be a symptom. Any unexplained wheezing or difficulty breathing should be evaluated by a health care professional immediately.
Neck lumps or nodules may also indicate thyroid cancer, although benign cells are more common than cancerous ones. Lumps in the neck can be too small to be immediately noticeable, though they may be felt when swallowing. A doctor can often detect neck growths through palpitation or with imaging studies. Whether their cause is cancerous or not, a doctor should inspect any new growths.
People with a type of thyroid cancer called medullary may find their faces frequently flush without any discernible reason. When cancer is the cause, this symptom is due to excess production of the hormone calcitonin, which can lead to various symptoms, including flushing, itching, and diarrhea. Medullary thyroid cancer is a less common form of the disease and is more common in women. It makes up only 3% of all cases of thyroid cancer.
Excessive production of the hormone calcitonin is also to blame for diarrhea in individuals with thyroid cancer. In fact, diarrhea is considered the major clinical symptom of medullary thyroid cancer and is rarely seen in other types of thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid tumors produce several chemical substances that can trigger diarrhea.
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