Before we get started, realize that I'm not a doctor moonlighting as a blogger – I'm simply a woman who is battling thyroid cancer. I want to share my story to help others (women and men).
Thyroid Cancer Symptoms
These are from the Mayo Clinic.
- A lump in the neck
- Neck pain
- Swelling in the neck
- Hoarseness that does not go away
- Voice changes
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- Constant cough unrelated to a cold
This is not an exhaustive list; constipation, hair loss, and sleeping too much are also common symptoms of thyroid issues.
I did not have any neck pain but did have swelling in my neck and it was noticed several times but doctors never thought it was thyroid related. I didn't have many of the other typical symptoms with thyroid cancer but did have hypothyroid symptoms that should have been noticed and treated. I wasn't on any thyroid meds until after my surgery.
Depression – off and on, runs in the family so it was brushed off
Always hot – was overweight, so this was brushed off as well
Low heart rate – heart rate in the low 40s, nurses were always alarmed but doctors weren't
Problems swallowing – for over a year
Constant cough – lasted for a few months right before the cancer was detected
Weight gain even with diet and exercise – doctor offered a prescribed weight loss pill, which I declined
Types of Thyroid Cancer
Papillary thyroid cancer: arises from follicular cells, which produce and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but most often it affects people ages 30 to 50. This is the most common form of thyroid cancer.
Follicular thyroid cancer: arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It usually affects people older than age 50. Hurthle cell cancer is a rare and potentially more aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.
Medullary thyroid cancer: begins in thyroid cells called C cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. Elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate medullary thyroid cancer at a very early stage.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer: rare and rapidly growing cancer that is very difficult to treat, typically occurs in adults age 60 and older.
Thyroid lymphoma: a rare form of thyroid cancer that begins in the immune system cells in the thyroid and grows very quickly, typically occurs in older adults.
Besides thyroid cancer, there's hypothyroidism as well as hyperthyroidism. Both are fairly common. More than 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid disorders. It’s more common than diabetes and heart disease, but an estimated 60 percent of cases go undiagnosed. This is probably – at least in part – because more women than men are affected, and women don't seem to take as good of care of themselves as they do others.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Because hypothyroidism is what I have experience with, I wanted to touch on the topic. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Unexplained weight gain
- Cravings for sugar and carbohydrates
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory (“Brain fog”)
Brain fog and fatigue are “normal” for moms so it's easy to brush those off, too.
You may have read through this list, checking “yes” to every box, and now you're freaking out. Take a breath. While thyroid issues are fairly common, that doesn't mean it's thyroid cancer. And even if it is, thyroid cancer is not an aggressive cancer in most cases. Some folks have it for years without realizing it, they get their thyroid out, and they never have cancer again.
However, if you have these symptoms please do not brush them off. Many times, doctors don't take us seriously. For whatever reason, they think we are overreacting or creating something out of nothing. It's important to find a doctor who listens to you. I realize this can be difficult, especially if you have crappy insurance or no insurance at all, but you have to advocate for yourself.
If you think you may have something wrong with your thyroid, take notes and bring them to your primary care physician. Do not let him or her brush you off.
Insist on a referral to an endocrinologist if they are not willing to do bloodwork or scans (a referral isn't a bad idea even if your primary is cooperative).
If labs come back normal and you're still feeling like crap, specifically ask for a thyroid function test. My labs were “borderline” and “nothing to worry about” according to the doctor, yet I had thyroid cancer WHILE he was saying this!
Ask for extra tests until you get answers. My nodules were discovered during a CAT scan for another issue on my neck. Had it not been discovered, I have NO idea when I would have learned of the thyroid cancer because I had all but given up on the doctors! My husband pushed and insisted I keep going back.
My thyroid symptoms may be different than yours. You may have one symptom and not the others. You may have a few symptoms but it's not thyroid cancer. This list will get you started on the right path if you may think something's up.