Disorders of the thyroid are generally related to hormone production or lumps within the gland. Too much or too little hormone can result in ongoing medical conditions which need to be managed with specialist intervention.
Benign thyroid conditions
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Thyroid cancer comes in five primary types:
- Papillary carcinoma – the most common type of thyroid cancer, making up 75-80% of cases.
- Follicular thyroid cancer – the second most common type. Together with papillary carcinoma, they account for about 95% of all thyroid cancer cases.
- Hürthle cell carcinoma – a variant of follicular thyroid cancer which develops from a certain type of follicular cell. It is more likely to spread to the lymph nodes than other thyroid cancers.
- Medullary thyroid carcinoma – this is the third most common type of thyroid cancer, making up about 3% of cases.
- Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma – this rarer type accounts for about 1% of all thyroid cancers, but is responsible for 20-50% of all thyroid cancer deaths.
With treatment, the 5-year survival rate for thyroid cancer is about 97%. Treatment for thyroid cancer will most often involve removing part or all of the thyroid gland. This may take place in conjunction with other therapies or treatments.
- A painless lump in the neck or throat
- Changes in voice (hoarseness)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
As the thyroid produces an essential hormone, you may also notice the symptoms of having too much or too little thyroid hormone in your body. These may include:
- Muscle and joint aches and/or stiffness
- Weakness or poor muscle tone
- Weight gain or weight loss without an obvious cause
- Thinning hair
- Impaired memory or mental function
To confirm the diagnosis of a thyroid condition, a series of tests will often be performed. These may include blood tests to assess your levels of thyroid hormone or an ultrasound to assess the size and shape of your thyroid.
A thyroidectomy may be performed to remove the entire thyroid. This is done under a general anaesthetic. Following a total thyroidectomy, thyroxine tablets are required for life to replace the hormones that the thyroid is no longer producing.
If a total thyroidectomy is not necessary, a hemithyroidectomy or thyroid lobectomy may be performed instead. This removes half of the thyroid gland, allowing it to continue producing hormones. The operation is generally shorter with less recovery time, and most patients do not need thyroxine tablets afterwards.