Learn about this rare type of aggressive thyroid cancer. Treatment typically involves surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
Hurthle (HEERT-luh) cell cancer is a rare cancer that affects the thyroid gland.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the base of your neck. It secretes hormones that are essential for regulating your body's metabolism.
Hurthle cell cancer is also called Hurthle cell carcinoma or oxyphilic cell carcinoma. Hurthle cell cancer is one of several types of cancers that affect the thyroid.
Hurthle cell cancer can be more aggressive than other types of thyroid cancer. Surgery to remove the thyroid gland is the most common treatment.
Hurthle cell cancer doesn't always cause symptoms, and it's sometimes detected during a physical examination or an imaging test done for some other reason.
Signs and symptoms of Hurthle cell cancer may include:
These signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean you have Hurthle cell cancer. They may be indications of other medical conditions — such as inflammation of the thyroid gland or a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid (goiter).
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.
It's not clear what causes Hurthle cell cancer.
Doctors know that cancer begins when a cell develops errors in its DNA — the genetic material that contains instructions for biochemical processes in your body. When DNA is altered or damaged, these genes may not function properly, causing cells to grow out of control and eventually form a mass (tumor) of cancerous (malignant) cells.
Factors that increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer include:
Possible complications of Hurthle cell cancer include:
Tests and procedures used to diagnose Hurthle cell cancer include:
Treatment for Hurthle cell cancer usually requires surgery to remove the thyroid. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be options.
Total or near-total removal of the thyroid (thyroidectomy) is the most common treatment for Hurthle cell cancer.
During thyroidectomy, the surgeon removes all or nearly all of the thyroid gland and leaves tiny edges of thyroid tissue near small adjacent glands (parathyroid glands) to lessen the chance of injuring them. The parathyroid glands regulate your body's calcium level.
Surrounding lymph nodes may be removed if there's suspicion that the cancer has spread to them.
Risks associated with thyroidectomy include:
After surgery, your doctor will prescribe the hormone levothyroxine (Synthroid, Unithroid, others) to replace the hormone produced by your thyroid. You'll need to take this hormone for the rest of your life.
Radioactive iodine therapy involves swallowing a capsule that contains a radioactive liquid.
Radioactive iodine therapy may be recommended after surgery because it can help destroy any remaining thyroid tissue, which can contain traces of cancer. Radioactive iodine therapy may also be used if Hurthle cell cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Temporary side effects of radioiodine therapy can include:
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you're positioned on a table and a machine moves around you, delivering the radiation to specific points on your body.
Radiation therapy may be an option if cancer cells remain after surgery and radioactive iodine treatment or if Hurthle cell cancer spreads.
Side effects may include:
Targeted drug treatments use medications that attack specific abnormalities within cancer cells. Targeted therapy may be an option if your Hurthle cell cancer returns after other treatments or if it spreads to distant parts of your body.
Side effects depend on the particular drug, but may include:
Targeted drug therapy is an active area of cancer research. Doctors are studying many new targeted therapy drugs for use in people with thyroid cancer.
A diagnosis of Hurthle cell cancer can be challenging and frightening. With time you'll find strategies to help you manage the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis. Until then, here are some ideas to help you cope:
Start by making an appointment with your family doctor if you have signs and symptoms that worry you.
If Hurthle cell cancer is suspected, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating thyroid disorders (endocrinologist) or a doctor who specializes in treating cancer (oncologist).
Because appointments can be brief, it's often helpful to arrive well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and what to expect from your doctor.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may make time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked:
June 17th, 2020