why cases are increasing, neck warning signs and how to live without the “butterfly”

It’s not one of the most talked about and that’s why many people don’t even know about it, but more than 4,000 new cases are registered in the country every year. thyroid cancer. And its incidence is increasing.

They are tumors that usually go unnoticed because they do not cause pain. Therefore, on the eve of World Thyroid Cancer Dayspecialists take the opportunity to raise awareness about the signs that warrant a consultation that can lead to early diagnosis and treatment, promoting a very good prognosis.

Thyroid cancer in Argentina

In the country, according to National Cancer Institute (INC) statistics based on data from the Global Cancer Observatory (Globocan), there are approximately 4,100 cases of thyroid cancer year.

That puts him in the eighth place in terms of frequency (the ones that cause the most cases are breast, colon, and lung tumors).

It is much more common in women, between the ages of 40 and 50, than in men: for every 5 cases diagnosed in them (3,347 in 2020), only one is diagnosed in men (669). Anyway, in them it is usually more aggressive.

However, in the statistics death is on the 27th. According to figures published by the INC, it caused 243 deaths in 2020, just 0.4% of all types of tumors registered in the country.

Thyroid control. Photo Shutterstock.

What is thyroid cancer?

The thyroid is orchestra conductor of many metabolic processes.

Therefore, its proper functioning is key to avoiding symptoms that can alter the quality of life, such as fatigue, lack of concentration, hair loss or nail problems, nervousness, problems with losing weight, insomnia and loss of sexual desire, among others.

Thyroid cancer includes four types of tumors that attack the gland, which are: it has the shape of a butterfly and is located in the neck.

The development takes place through a change in the DNA of the affected cells.

“This mutation causes them to start grow and multiply, instead of completing its cycle and dying. When this happens, they start to build up, creating the tumor,” explains Agustín Falco, a head and neck/thyroid tumor specialist at the Alexander Fleming Institute.

types of thyroid cancer

Why Are Thyroid Cancer Cases Increasing?

The incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing worldwide.

“Lately there has been an increase in the number of cases around the world, perhaps because are detected as findings when the person undergoes an imaging test, for various reasons,” emphasizes physician Virginia Busnelli in the book Is it stress or your thyroid? (Athenaeum Publishing House).

And Falco points out that thyroid cancer is the… most common endocrine malignancywith an increasing incidence worldwide (between 13 and 14 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants per year).

The oncologist agrees that this increase is related to the fact that the health system today has more advanced means of diagnosis.

“There is a greater dissemination of studies, such as the cervical ultrasound, which detects subclinical asymptomatic tumors. That is, tumors found incidentally, which are known as ‘incidentalomas’.”

“However, despite the increased incidence of thyroid cancer, in recent decades mortality decreased by more than 50%” emphasizes Juan Manuel Fernández Vila, head of the head and neck surgery department at the German hospital.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

More than 9 out of 10 cases of thyroid cancer are called cancers differentiatedwhich contains the variants papillary (the most common) and follicular.

“The five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is nearly 98% because it has lower aggressiveness and an excellent response to standard treatments, surgery followed by radioactive iodine, or observation,” says Busnelli.

Much less common are the other types: the medullary cancer, which originates in the parafollicular cells, which is commonly associated with other endocrine tumors; and the anaplasticwhich is a more aggressive variant that responds less to treatment but is very rare.

“The prognosis will depend on multiple factors, but mainly on the size and extension to adjacent structures, as well as distant metastases,” the doctor says.

Watch for the appearance of lumps or swellings on the side of the neck.  Photo Shutterstock.

Watch for the appearance of lumps or swellings on the side of the neck. Photo Shutterstock.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Falco warns that many patients come to the practice without suspecting the sickness.

But that doesn’t just happen with cancer, but with all disorders related to the thyroid gland. “A recent study showed that 60% of people who had an abnormality in the gland were not aware of it.”

Often these tumors have a slow growthso initially they don’t give any warning signs.

And aside from the fact that the tumor is often detected as an “accidental finding” (it is found without looking for it, when requesting a cervical ultrasound for any other reason), the most common form of presentation is as a asymptomatic cervical noduleexplains Fleming’s oncologist.

For this reason, it underlines the importance of consultation before the appearance of: a lump or swelling on the side of the neck, because while these nodules are “usually asymptomatic and benign, they can also be the result of the development of a tumor”.

To a lesser extent, thyroid cancer may also present with: difficulty swallowing and breathing or hoarse voice. But since these symptoms usually occur with other pathologies or conditions, it is advisable to make a medical consultation to clarify the diagnosis.

How Thyroid Cancer Is Diagnosed?

When a suspicious thyroid nodule is detected, a puncture is performed under ultrasound guidance to make the diagnosis whether it is a tumor or not.

“It’s important to keep in mind that not all thyroid nodules need to be pierced, as the vast majority are benign (about 95%),” explains Falco.

As with other cancers, the restrictions imposed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic have led to a decline in the number of early consultations “and we are in these times with tumors diagnosed in more advanced stagesthe oncologist warns.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

Once the diagnosis is established and the characteristics of the tumor are known, the most appropriate therapeutic options for the patient are determined (the various alternatives include surgery, radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and targeted therapies).

“This requires the evaluation of patients in centers with experience in the management of this pathology, and the discussion of all cases in multidisciplinary teamessential for better decision-making,” says Falco.

Fernández Vila indicates that the main treatment is: total thyroidectomy (removal of the entire gland) and, in some selected cases, the hemitiroidectomy (removal of half of the gland).

“Treatment with radioactive iodine it can act as an adjuvant to destroy if traces of tumor cells are left after resection,” adds Busnelli.

life without a thyroid

“No Butterfly” Patients Should take levothyroxine for life, the doctor says. High doses are usually indicated initially.

“The checks are carried out with ultrasound and blood test where the amount of thyroglobulin will be measured,” he adds.

Thyroglobulin is released by thyroid cells, “therefore, after removing this gland, we should not find it in our circulation. If we find it in the blood at any time, we can suspect tumor recurrence.”

Can Thyroid Cancer Be Prevented?

“There are no specific prevention measures, although, as always emphasized, a Healthy livingavoiding tobacco, alcohol and periodic medical checkups allows for early detection and better management of this disease,” concludes Falco.


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