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What is Medullary Thyroid Cancer?

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare cancer affecting the thyroid gland. Accounting for only 2-5% of all thyroid cancers, MTC develops from the parafollicular C cells of the thyroid that produce the hormone calcitonin.

This guide provides an in-depth overview of everything you need to know about medullary thyroid cancer. Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for this disease can help patients and families cope with an MTC diagnosis.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

Medullary thyroid cancer starts when the C cells of the thyroid begin to grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor. There are two types of MTC – sporadic and familial.

Sporadic MTC occurs randomly with no family history. Familial MTC is inherited and accounts for about 25% of MTC cases. It’s associated with genetic disorders like multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A and 2B.

Factors that can increase MTC risk include:

  • Family history of MTC
  • Female gender
  • Age over 50 years

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

In its early stages, medullary thyroid cancer often causes no signs or symptoms. As it progresses, some common symptoms include:

  • A lump or nodule in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Hoarse voice
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing

More advanced MTC can also lead to diarrhea and facial flushing. Seeking medical attention promptly for any observed neck lumps or swallowing issues provides the best chance for early diagnosis and treatment.

YOUR ROADMAP TO AVOID THYROID SURGERY

Diagnosis of Medullary Thyroid Cancer

If MTC symptoms are present, doctors will perform a physical exam of the neck area, feeling for any nodules or enlarged lymph nodes. They’ll also ask about personal and family history of thyroid disorders.

Several tests can help confirm an MTC diagnosis:

  • Blood tests to check calcitonin levels
  • Ultrasound to identify masses in the thyroid
  • CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to see if cancer has spread
  • Thyroid biopsy to extract cells for examination

Once MTC is diagnosed, doctors determine the stage of the cancer based on factors like tumor size and whether it has spread.

MTC Staging and Prognosis

MTC staging goes from stages I through IV, with stage I being the least severe and stage IV being the most advanced.

  • Stage I: The tumor is less than 2 cm and is limited to the thyroid. The 10-year survival rate is 100%.
  • Stage II: The tumor is over 2 cm but still confined to the thyroid, or it has spread to nearby tissue. The 10-year survival is about 93%.
  • Stage III: The cancer has spread to regional lymph nodes or surrounding structures like the larynx. The 10-year survival rate is 71%.
  • Stage IV: The tumor has metastasized to distant sites like the lungs and liver. Survival rates are lower for stage IV, around 21% at 10 years.

Conclusion

Although an uncommon cancer, medullary thyroid cancer requires prompt diagnosis and treatment for the best prognosis. Through a combination of surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, and other approaches, many patients achieve long-term remission and survival. Staying vigilant through regular follow-up care is also essential. With a strong spirit and support network, people with MTC can maintain fulfilling lives for many years.

References

Medullary Thyroid Cancer – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC): Symptoms & Treatment

Medullary Thyroid Cancer: Prognosis, Life Expectancy & Survival Rate

Medullary Thyroid Cancer | American Thyroid Association

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