- The woman did not have any symptoms other than her cough
- After her diagnosis, she had her thyroid removed and had radiation therapy
- READ MORE: What’s behind the worrying rise of cancer in young people?
A woman with cancer went undiagnosed for months because she experienced extremely uncommon symptoms of the disease.
The 54-year-old had been suffering from a chronic cough for six months before she was finally diagnosed with a tumor on her thyroid gland.
The woman – from Malaysia – had dismissed her symptom as something far more innocuous but sought help when she began coughing up blood.
She underwent numerous testing before doctors discovered she had an enlarged thyroid, prompting them to take a biopsy of the gland and leading them to an eventual diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer.
The above image is from the woman’s CT scan, which shows the swollen left thyroid slightly compressing her trachea
The above image shows the area of compression on the woman’s windpipe. It was taken from a bronchoscopy, a procedure used to look at air passages with a small camera at the end of a flexible tube,
The woman, who also had diabetes and high blood pressure, was not identified in the review of her case, which was published in the American Journal of Case Reports.
Doctors wrote hemoptysis – coughing up blood – is an ‘uncommon presentation of papillary thyroid cancer in primary care settings and requires a high index of suspicion and comprehensive assessment in arriving to the final diagnosis.’
It is commonly present in patients with lung cancer, bronchitis and pneumonia.
The woman did not have a fever, shortness of breath or other symptoms. She did not have a history of radiation exposure – a risk factor for thyroid cancer – and had no relatives with thyroid cancer.
Doctors also did not find neck swelling or lumps. On examining her, doctors found her to have a normally functioning thyroid. She also did not have breathing difficulty.
Additional tests did not find anything significant. There were no signs of infections and all of her blood tests showed normal results. Her thyroid function test, a series of tests used to check the function of the thyroid, was normal.
Eventually, doctors performed a CT scan of the area between her abdomen and base of the neck to investigate the cause of the bloody cough.
The images revealed the left side of her thyroid was enlarged and it had a nodule – or lump – and calcifications, which are small flecks of calcium in the nodule, a prominent feature of cancer.
It was also observed her thyroid was partially compressing her trachea, or windpipe.
This prompted doctors to do an ultrasound of the thyroid, which revealed more nodules, leading her medical team to perform a biopsy of the lumps.
When additional tests revealed the lumps were cancerous, the woman had her entire thyroid removed because of the tumor’s large size and suspicion the cancer had spread to locally surrounding areas.
Following surgery, the patient received two cycles of radioactive iodine therapy, which is used to destroy any thyroid tissue left behind after surgery. RAI therapy is taken via an oral capsule and in most cases patients do not need to be hospitalized.
The thyroid is a gland in the front of the neck responsible for making hormones that control the way the body uses energy
Thyroid cancer is more common in women and symptoms include difficulty swallowing and a lump felt in the neck
Some research has mentioned thyroid cancer is ‘one of the rare causes’ of a bloody cough and doctors in this case believe it was caused by the thyroid invading into the windpipe.
The thyroid is a gland in the front of the neck responsible for making hormones that control the way the body uses energy. Hormones produced by the thyroid impact nearly every organ in the body and control many of the body’s most important functions.
Thyroid cancer may not cause any symptoms at first but as the cancer grows it can cause swelling of the neck, voice changes, difficulty swallowing, a nodule that can be felt through the skin on the neck and pain in the neck and throat.
There are several types of thyroid cancer with the most common being papillary thyroid cancer. It can occur at any age but is most often seen in people aged 30 to 50 years old.
Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer as experts think it may be related to the hormone estrogen, which is present at higher levels in females. Exposure to radiation and inherited genetic conditions are also risk factors.
Treatment for papillary thyroid cancer includes removing part or all of the thyroid, radioactive iodine therapy, hormone therapy and external radiation therapy.
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 43,720 new cases of the cancer this year and about 2,120 deaths.
The five-year survival rate for papillary thyroid cancer that has spread outside of the thyroid to nearby structures is 99 percent, but varies based on the age and general health of a patient.
It is one of the rarer cancers that affects the thyroid gland, a small gland at the base of the neck that produces hormones.
It’s most common in people in their 30s and those over the age of 60, with women up to three times more likely to develop it than men.
There are around 3,900 new cases in the UK every year, or 11 a day.
Thyroid cancer is usually treatable, with a 10-year survival rate of 84 per cent, and in many cases can be cured completely.
- a painless lump or swelling in the front of the neck – although only 1 in 20 neck lumps are cancer
- swollen glands in the neck
- unexplained hoarseness that does not get better after a few weeks
- a sore throat that does not get better
- difficulty swallowing
What causes thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer happens when there’s a change to the DNA inside thyroid cells which causes them to grow uncontrollably and produce a lump.
It’s not usually clear what causes this change, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk.
- other thyroid conditions, such as an inflamed thyroid (thyroiditis) or goitre – but not an overactive thyroid or underactive thyroid
- a family history of thyroid cancer – your risk is higher if a close relative has had thyroid cancer
- radiation exposure in childhood – such as radiotherapy
- a bowel condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- acromegaly – a rare condition where the body produces too much growth hormone
Types of thyroid cancer
There are four main types of thyroid cancer:
- papillary carcinoma – the most common type, accounting for about eight in 10 cases; it usually affects people under 40, particularly women
- follicular carcinoma – accounts for up to one in 10 cases and tends to affect middle-aged adults, particularly women
- medullary thyroid carcinoma – accounts for less than 1 in 10 cases; unlike the other types, it can run in families
- anaplastic thyroid carcinoma – the rarest and most serious type, accounting for around one in 50 cases; it usually affects people over the age of 60