Thyroid Cancer: An Example of Malignant Neoplasia

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  • 0:07 Predisposed o Many Problems
  • 0:45 What Is the Thyroid Gland?
  • 1:11 Follicular and…
  • 3:41 Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis
  • 5:45 Thyroid Cancer…
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will describe the composition and function of the thyroid gland. We'll go into which hormones it produces, what they do, and how they may play a role in thyroid cancer. We'll also discuss the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer.

Predisposed To Many Problems

There are places in this world that seem to be predisposed to an entire set of natural disasters. As an obvious example of this, Japan comes to mind. The Japanese people always have to be on alert for volcanic activity, earthquakes, tsunamis, and violent storms. It's only one little part of the world, and a very important one as well, but it seems predisposed to quite a few dangers. And so it is that many small places in your own body, including an important gland, are also predisposed to many problems, including a form of malignant neoplasia, or cancer, which we will be covering in this lesson.

What Is The Thyroid Gland?

Your body has an important gland found in the neck that is involved in regulating metabolism and calcium balance. This gland is called the thyroid gland. This gland can be subject to many problems, such as being underactive or overactive, and it may be subject to autoimmune disorders, goiters, benign nodules, and many other things that sometimes are part of one disease or different disease processes.

Follicular and Parafollicular Cells

The thyroid gland itself is composed of two main types of cells, called follicular and parafollicular cells. The follicular cells are responsible for secreting two important hormones involved in the regulation of the body's metabolism. These are thyroxine, also known as T4, which is the major form of thyroid hormone in the blood, and triiodothyronine, also known as T3, which is the more active and potent form of thyroid hormone in the body.

The way I remember that T3 is also known as triiodothyronine is because the prefix 'tri-,' meaning 'three,' is in the word itself. Therefore, that leaves thyroxine as T4. At any rate, one way or another, both of these hormones serve to increase the body's metabolic rate. If you're confused as to what this really means, then we can simplify it to a relatable example.

These hormones are like a really powerful energy drink that may be full of sugar and caffeine. That sugar and caffeine will give you a big boost in energy and make you run faster. Similarly, the thyroid hormones speed up our body's energetic and chemical processes and therefore make our body's cells and organs function faster, in a manner of speaking. By doing so, the thyroid hormones promote utilization and burning off of fats and carbohydrates, increase heart rate, and are important for maintaining fertility and the proper growth and development of our body.

While the follicular cells produced thyroid hormones, the parafollicular cells of the thyroid gland produce something known as calcitonin, a hormone that is responsible for lowering the levels of calcium in the blood, the exact opposite of what parathyroid hormone does in the body. Again PTH, or parathyroid hormone, is a hormone that serves to increase the concentration of calcium in the blood. This latter hormone is made by cells of the parathyroid glands, glands that are located on the thyroid gland itself.

Now, there's a method to my madness and a reason for making you learn all of this important stuff. If I didn't outline all of that above, none of the following information would make much sense, so bear with me.

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

Just like Japan, the thyroid gland may be prone to many different disasters, which I'm sure you've noticed by now. In fact, like storms in Japan, the thyroid gland can produce something known as a thyroid storm. I kid you not. Besides what I've already mentioned could happen to the thyroid gland, something even more terrible can occur, and that's thyroid cancer.

Any of the cells of the thyroid gland may transform into malignant, or cancer, cells. These cancer cells may cause a nodule, lump, or swelling to occur in the thyroid gland that can be felt with your fingers and one that is usually otherwise asymptomatic. In some cases, difficulty swallowing, pain in the neck, and even changes to one's voice may occur. If a person notices such a lump or swelling they should immediately go see a doctor who will run many different tests to figure out the problem of this growth.

Some of these tests look for the levels of T3, T4, and calcitonin in the blood. In thyroid cancer, the levels of T3 and T4 are usually found to be normal, which isn't the case with all the different types of afflictions that may affect the thyroid gland, such as hyperthyroidism (also known as an overactive thyroid). Calcitonin levels may also be normal, unless a very specific form of thyroid cancer that affects parafollicular cells occurs, in which case these levels may increase.

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