Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. It is this type of cancer that comprises over 80% of all thyroid cancers. Additionally, papillary thyroid cancer is the easiest to cure of the thyroid cancer variants. In this article, we will be covering the basics of this particular type of thyroid cancer.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer Overview
What is Papillary Thyroid Cancer?
Also known as papillary thyroid carcinoma, papillary thyroid cancer occurs most frequently in women between the ages 20 and 55 years old. It is also a predominant type of cancer among children and patients who received chemotherapy treatment for cancers localized in the head and neck area. The notable characteristics of papillary thyroid cancer are the following: it is differentiated, slow-growing, and localized. Because of these characteristics, the chances of survival for those with papillary thyroid cancer is often very high.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer Causes
There aren’t any definite causes of this particular type of thyroid cancer. However, there are several risk factors that science has identified:
- 30 to 50 years old
- Family history of thyroid cancer
- Exposure to radiation (i.e. nuclear accidents or weapons testing)
- Personal or family history of goiter
- Has undergone bone marrow treatment
- Personal or family history of genetic syndromes
Research states that the development of this type of cancer is related to a certain degree of genetic mutation. Children inherit these mutations or develop them based on external environmental factors. The following describe some of the specifics of the possible gene mutations:
- RET/PTC gene – Geneticists find that this gene is mutated in 10% to 30% of patients with papillary thyroid cancer. In addition to this, researchers also find that this gene is commonly mutated in children who have been exposed to a significant amount of radiation.
- BRAF gene – This mutation is more common in patients with papillary thyroid cancer. Approximately 30% to 70% of patients with this condition have a mutated BRAF gene. Additionally, BRAF mutations do not occur as often in children who have been exposed to radiation. Moreover, it is this type of mutation that is known to manifest in the form of more aggressive cancers that are more likely to spread and metastasize.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer Symptoms
Like most issues that involve the thyroid gland, this type of cancer does not bring about dramatically severe symptoms. In fact, affected individuals often don’t know about their condition. Like most other thyroid problems, papillary thyroid cancer is usually detected due to the sudden appearance of a painless lump on the front portion of the neck. This lump is what we call a thyroid nodule. This nodule can cause a number of other signs and symptoms such as the following:
- Throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Hoarse voice
Often, your doctor will be able to detect this nodule during a routine physical examination. However, in some cases, this manifests instead as a swollen lymph node on the side of the neck. This can happen due to the spread of cancer from the thyroid to the neighboring lymph node. Swollen lymph nodes are a common occurrence during and immediately after an infection. Given this, consult your doctor if your lymph nodes have been swollen for an extended period of time.
Diagnosing Papillary Thyroid Cancer
For a more accurate diagnosis of your thyroid health, combine your TSH test with other clinical tests. https://t.co/VYiLY1SwwJ
— Thyroid Symptoms (@ThyroidSymptms) September 2, 2017
The diagnostic procedures for this particular type of thyroid cancer are similar to that of the other thyroid cancer types.
- Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy – Doctors opt to do this procedure in order to determine if a thyroid nodule is benign or malignant. The fine needle aspiration biopsy is usually the first thing that doctors request if there is any suspicion of cancer. In this procedure, the doctor inserts a thin and hollow needle into the thyroid tissue and removes a sample of cells to examine. In some cases, doctors opt to do a thyroidectomy in tandem.
- Imaging – In comparison to the FNA biopsy, imaging tests are much quicker and painless. Often, thyroid imaging tests come in the form of an ultrasound. Doctors use imaging to gauge the size and location of the nodule. However, it is important to note that this test cannot determine whether a nodule is malignant or benign.
- Blood Tests – Like imaging tests, blood tests cannot help with determining whether a thyroid nodule is malignant or not. Doctors request blood tests in order to gauge the amount of thyroid hormone, as well as thyroid stimulating hormone, that are present in the blood. This allows the physician to assess how well your thyroid gland is functioning.
- Hot Nodules – Overly active nodules produce an excessive amount of thyroid stimulating hormone. These are very rarely cancerous.
- Cold Nodules – These nodules do not produce thyroid stimulating hormones and are more likely to be cancerous.
How Do We Treat Papillary Thyroid Cancer?
Some of the options for treatment are more invasive than others. Here is a brief overview of the various options for papillary thyroid cancer treatment.
- Thyroidectomy – This option is the most invasive. However, many health professionals still consider this to be the primary method of treatment. The degree of thyroidectomy is often either total or near-total. It is very rare that a thyroid lobectomy would suffice.
- Radioactive Iodine Therapy – Health professionals often incorporate this form of therapy into the chemotherapy options for thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodine therapy takes advantage of thyroid cells being the only iodine absorbing cells. Given this, the physician will be able to target the thyroid gland. This method will not bear much effect on the other cells of the body since they do not respond to iodine. Unlike other forms of chemotherapy, the side effects of radioactive iodine therapy are rather minimal. Those who undergo this form of therapy do not experience the nausea or hair loss often associated chemotherapy.
- Thyroid Hormone Replacement – Being that papillary thyroid cancer, like most other thyroid cancers, require some form of thyroidectomy, thyroid hormone replacement therapy is necessary. And more often than not, that thyroid hormone replacement therapy be a life-long practice.
For more information about Radioactive Iodine Therapy for treatment of Thyroid Cancer, watch this video by Access Health:
Papillary thyroid cancer can be difficult to detect due to the subtle nature of its symptoms. Given this, we must be proactive regarding our health by means of maintaining annual routine check-ups. In addition to this, if you begin to experience the signs and symptoms discussed in this article, talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
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