Thyroid cancer. 3D illustration with thyroid and tumor in the human body (Source: Shutterstock)
The diagnosis of thyroid cancer indicates a malignant formation of the thyroid gland. It can occur at any age, but people over the age of 30 are more frequently affected, with women twice as likely as men.
Overall, thyroid cancer is a rather rare type of cancer (1% of all cancers). The disease can be divided into different typologies. In up to 30 percent of people in Germany, benign tumours can be detected in the thyroid gland. In contrast, an average of 2400 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer every year. And only in one in 1000 cases does the malignant tumour develop from a benign tumour.
The chances of cure are generally excellent for a thyroid cancer that is detected in time.
Benign tumours, called adenomas, develop when the thyroid tissue can no longer be regulated in its hormone production by other hormones (functional autonomy). In over 95 percent of cases, thyroid cancer develops from the cells lining the glandular ducts (epithelial cells).
Thyroid cancer and thyroid lymphoma always originate within the organ thyroid gland. Benign thyroid tumours can also develop as metastases of other malignant tumours, for example breast cancer, malignant melanoma or lung cancer.
Papillary, follicular, medullary cancers
So-called papillary thyroid cancer is the most common cancer of the thyroid gland, accounting for 60 percent of all cases; it spreads and metastasises across the lymphatic system.
Follicular thyroid cancer is the second most common form of thyroid cancer and in most cases occurs as a single lump in the thyroid gland. Patients around the age of 50 are particularly affected. Follicular cancers initially metastasize in the bloodstream and then form metastases in the lungs and bones.
Medullary thyroid cancer does not originate from thyroid hormone-producing thyroid cells (thyreocytes), but from the calcitonin-producing C-cells of the thyroid gland.
Initially, the tumour is limited to the thyroid gland. If it is not detected and grows, it can break through the connective tissue capsule of the thyroid gland and attack nearby tissue, lymph nodes or other organs. Then cancer cells can also reach distant organs via lymph vessels and blood vessels, establish themselves there and multiply again; metastases develop. In thyroid cancer, metastases occur most frequently in the lungs, liver and bones.
The symptoms of thyroid cancer are similar to those of a harmless cold that extends over a long period of time. Patients complain of difficulty swallowing, palpably or visibly enlarged lymph nodes in the throat area, a feeling of pressure in the throat area, shortness of breath, hoarseness and the urge to cough.