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What Is Metastatic Thyroid Cancer?

The thyroid gland, along with blood vessels.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2014
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Metastatic thyroid cancer is cancer of the thyroid that has spread into other regions of the body. This cancer contains rogue thyroid cells and can be clearly linked to the parent cancer, no matter where it ends up. When cancers metastasize, they become harder to treat, as it is less possible to remove all of the cancer cells in surgery, and radiation and chemotherapy must be designed carefully to hit the cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells in the body.

The most common form of thyroid cancer, accounting for around 70% of cases, is papillary thyroid cancer. Patients can also develop other variants. Most frequently, when the cancer metastasizes, it spreads to the neighboring lymph nodes, and the swelling of these nodes may be the first warning sign of cancer for the patient. Other metastatic thyroid cancer can travel to the bones and the lungs, two nearby sites vulnerable to the spreading cancer. These cancers are known as thyroid cancers no matter where they appear, as cancers are named for the cells involved, rather than the location.

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Patients with thyroid cancer can develop symptoms like fatigue and weight gain, depending on the type of cancer. Biopsies can show cancers in the thyroid and the recommended treatment is usually removal, along with excision of neighboring lymph nodes to check for metastases. If there is a concern that a patient has developed metastatic thyroid cancer in another region of the body, medical imaging studies may be requested to look for signs of cancerous growths.

The prognosis for a patient with metastatic thyroid cancer depends on factors like the size of the metastases and their precise location. Doctors usually recommend aggressive treatment to kill off the rogue cells, and in some patients, treatment is highly effective. Other patients may have less responsive cancers. The cancer could continue to spread in defiance of treatment, leading to increasingly worse symptoms in the patient.

When patients are diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer, it can be helpful to ask for details about the disease and treatment options. Doctors can discuss the risks and benefits of different available treatments, and should be able to provide information about the prognosis with various kinds of treatment. Consulting a specialist with ample experience in the area of thyroid cancer can provide patients with the most up-to-date treatments, as well as access to a physician who has considerable knowledge of similar cases.

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