What You Need to Know About Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Papillary Thyroid Cancer, also referred as Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, is a common type of thyroid cancer. In fact, about 80% of all thyroid cancer cases are the papillary carcinoma type. The disease is actually more common in women than in men and is often seen in adults that are between ages thirty (30) and fifty (50).

In most cases, the cause of the Papillary Thyroid cancer is unknown and is often linked to a genetic defect. But some studies suggest that Papillary Thyroid Cancer is a disease that is caused by overexposure to some form of radiation such as radiation treatments, or radiation exposure to nuclear plant disasters. Though the disease’ spread seems to be at a high rate, the overall cure is set at 100%, especially if the patient is young, and there are only small lesions within the thyroid gland.

The Symptoms

Most cases of Papillary Thyroid Cancer show no symptoms (asymptomatic); hence, why patients don’t even know that it is there. The disease may be left undetected for a prolonged period unless an ultrasound has been performed on the direct area of the thyroid.

The onset of the thyroid cancer actually begins with a small lump, which is called nodule, within the thyroid gland. These lumps may be cancerous and malignant, but about ninety percent are harmless or benign. As Papillary Thyroid Cancer is left undetected, the lump/nodule can grow big. This mass can eventually become palpable like a mass that can be felt or can be directly visible on the surface of the skin. If the nodule continues to grow in size, the patients may experience difficulty in swallowing food. There are even instances where pills or medications and even food may get stuck when swallowing.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath especially when the patient is lying flat on his/her back, compression within the neck area, hoarseness, and rapidly multiplying nodules that are increasing in size. It is important that a patient must seek medical help the soonest time possible if the latter signs and symptoms have been observed. This is to determine whether the nodules need to undergo the necessary biopsy tests.

Survival Rate

Recent developments in the field of medicine have made it possible for the decrease of Papillary Thyroid Cancer cases. The size of the tumor, a person’s age, and proper monitoring may increase a patient’s survival rate.

Adult patients who have undergone the necessary procedures like surgery, oral medications, and routine check-ups have survived at least 10 more years. However, the survival rate is better for the younger ones who are forty (40) years old and below. If the patient is older than forty-five (45) years old, the survival rate decreases immensely.

The chance of survival from the disease also increases depending on the size of the tumor. However, if the tumor is bigger in sizes such as 1.0 centimeters or more and is known to be cancerous, the surgery is the only option to remove the thyroid that is particularly affected. This is to ensure that the spread of the cancerous cells would not reach other internal parts of the body.

The rate of survival from the Papillary Thyroid Cancer also decreases when:

  • cancer cells have already spread to distant parts of the body (i.e. lungs and bones)
  • cancer cells have already affected soft tissues of the body
  • the tumor is beyond 1-centimeter long or is very large in size

Exams and Tests

Doctors would usually give orders for blood tests and ultrasound on the thyroid gland. This is to determine where the nodules are located and how big they actually are.

If the ultrasound reveals that the lump is bigger than one (1) centimetre, Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB) and Radioactive Iodine Ablation (RAI) will be performed to further analyze whether the lump is cancerous or not.


Just like all other cancer-related diseases, Papillary Thyroid Cancer can be treated using the following methods:

  • Surgery – This is where doctors will remove parts of the thyroid gland affected by these cancerous nodules. If the lump is bigger than 1.0 centimeters, the doctors would have no choice but to remove a bigger part of thyroid gland to prevent the further spread of cancer cells within the other parts of the body.
  • Radioactive Iodine – This type of procedure is done after the removal of the thyroid gland. Radioiodine Therapy is a type of oral medication that kills any of the remaining cancerous thyroid tissues.
  • Maintenance medication – The particular maintenance medication is known as levothyroxine and is considered to be a lifetime medicine needed to be taken in by a patient on a regular basis. This drug specifically aids in the production and regulation of hormones that are originally produced by the thyroid gland.

Other methods recommended by the doctor after the operation include continuous monitoring of the thyroid every 6 to 12 months. This must be performed in order for the patient’s thyroid hormone levels to be strictly detected.

During the treatment stage, particularly months after the surgery, the following routine check-ups must be strictly done by the patient.

  • Thyroglobulin blood test
  • Monitoring of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels
  • Ultrasound of the neck area

If all three tests are suspicious upon the follow-up check-ups, Radioactive Iodine (RAI) scan and Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB) will be recommended by a specialist all over again to check for the cancer’s recurrence.

Recurrence of Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Chances of recurrence of this Papillary Thyroid Cancer is low, especially when the affected thyroid glands have already been removed and the spread of cancerous cells are not exaggerated.

But if recurrence of the disease does occur, the best course of action is to perform a new lymph node surgery to remove the affected nodes. A trained thyroid specialist may also perform an additional treatment which is known as RAI (Radioactive Iodine) ablation. Best treatments for thyroid cancer recurrences will only work best if the patient is careful in choosing thyroid specialists who are well-experienced and trained to perform these kinds of procedures.

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