How to Care for Patients with Thyroid Cancer
January 12 2023
Symptoms, Treatment, and Care for Thyroid Cancer
Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that is part of your endocrine system. It makes and releases certain hormones that help control your body’s metabolism, which is how your body uses energy. Your thyroid is also responsible for helping to regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Sometimes your thyroid doesn’t work properly, causing you to lose or gain weight, or you may be diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
In this article, we will be specifically looking at thyroid cancer, including what it is, how it is treated, and how patients can cope with treatment side effects.
What is Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer is when a growth of cancerous cells starts in the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. Thyroid cancer might not cause any symptoms at first, but as it grows, it can cause signs and symptoms including voice changes, swelling in the neck, and difficulty swallowing, to name a few.
There are several types of thyroid cancer. While most grow slowly, there are some types that are very aggressive. Rates in thyroid cancer seem to be increasing, however, this may be caused by improved imaging technology that allows health care providers to find small cancers on CT and MRI scans done for other conditions. Luckily, most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
As thyroid cancer grows, it may cause:
- A lump, or nodule, that can be felt through the skin on your neck
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- A feeling that close-fitting shirt collars are becoming too tight
- Changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness
- Pain in your neck and throat
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
Cancer happens when the DNA in cells change. For most thyroid cancers, it is not clear what causes this DNA change that leads to cancer. However, there are some risk factors. These factors include:
- Being assigned female at birth–scientists believe there may be a relation to the hormone estrogen
- Exposure to high levels of radiation
- Certain inherited genetic syndromes, including medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia, Cowden syndrome, and familial adenomatous polyposis
Treatment for Thyroid Cancer
Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially if they have not metastasized (spread to other parts of the body). If the cancer cannot be cured, the goal of treatment is to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible, and to keep it from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible. Treatment can also be palliative, focusing on alleviating symptoms such as pain or problems with breathing or swallowing.
The type of treatment largely depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Options may include:
- Radioactive iodine therapy
- Thyroid hormone therapy
- External beam radiation therapy
- Target drug therapy
Helping Patients Cope with Physical Side Effects of Treatment
Each patient will be unique in the side effects they feel depending on the treatment type and how their own body responds to that treatment. However, it is important to encourage patients to speak with their care team regularly about how they are feeling during and after treatments, including any side effects or any changes to existing side effects. Knowing what your patients are experiencing as a result of treatment is the first step in helping them cope with side effects. It may be helpful for some patients to track side effects in a journal.
Also, let your patients know that side effects can last well after treatment ends. In some cases, long-term side effects can occur months or years after the final treatment and are referred to as “late effects.” Encourage patients to keep their follow-up care appointments to help with late effects.
Finally, many thyroid cancer patients may need palliative care in order to deal with some of the painful side effects of the cancer and/or the treatment. Work with the entire care team and the patient to find the right treatments to help them cope with any pain or other difficulties.
Helping Patients Cope with Emotional and Social Effects
Being diagnosed with and treated for cancer can send patients on an emotional roller coaster. They may be dealing with emotions such as sadness, anxiety, or even anger. They may also find the whole process downright stressful. They should be encouraged to not only discuss the physical aspects of dealing with thyroid cancer, but the emotional and social effects as well. Patients should routinely speak with their social worker, counselor, or member of clergy to help them develop effective ways of coping with and talking about their diagnosis. Encourage them to keep a journal to help them put their thoughts on paper, which can also help them relieve stress and ensure they don’t miss talking about anything with their counselor or social worker.
Home Health Care for Cancer Patients
Are you or a loved one dealing with a cancer diagnosis? Fighting cancer can be exhausting, especially if you are traveling back and forth for treatment. Receiving care at home can make the experience of dealing with cancer and cancer treatment much more comfortable and less exhausting. Treatment, including palliative care, can be received at home through the help of an entire care team, consisting of nurses, doctors, home health aides, social workers, counselors, and clergy.
If you’d like to learn more about home health services provided by our caring and experienced team, visit our website. Services provided by All American are customizable to your unique needs!