Medullary Carcinoma of the thyroid

November 12, 2012

Medullary Carcinoma of the thyroid

Medullary Carcinoma of the thyroid, or cancer of the thyroid is a serious condition that results in having the thyroid surgically removed.

Causes of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid

The direct cause of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid remains unknown. Other cancers of the thyroid are commonly caused through exposure to radiation therapy that was used during childhood when the individual suffered from other forms of cancer. However, in the case of this form of thyroid cancer, it is not thought to be related to radiation exposure. Although the cause has not yet been indentified there are factors that are recognised as increasing the risk of the development of the disease in certain individuals. First of all there are two kinds of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid known as sporadic and inherited. Sporadic as the name suggests, appears to occur fairy randomly, does not run in families but is more common in older people. The inherited form runs in families, therefore an individual is at an increased risk of developing the disease if they have a family history of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid, a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia or a previous history of pheschromocytoma, mucosal neuromas or hyperparathyroidism.


Some of the most common symptoms of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid include:

  • Narrowing of the airways leading to problems with breathing

  • Coughing

  • Coughing up blood

  • Diarrhea

  • Enlargement of the thyroid, known as goiter

  • Lumps on the thyroid gland


As soon as you notice any of the symptoms of the disease, you should make an appointment with your doctor. A physical exam will then be conducted with a focus on the neck, checking for swollen lymph nodes. Thyroid function tests are also common although examination is usually enough to identify single of multiples lumps on the thyroid gland. Further tests that may or may not be performed include:

  • CEA blood tests

  • Genetic testing

  • Thyroid biopsy

  • Calcitonin blood tests

  • Thyroid scan

  • Ultrasound of the thyroid

  • Individuals should also be checked for certain other tumours


The most common form of treatment is surgery to remove the thyroid any of the surrounding lymph nodes. As this kind of thyroid tumour is not common, this kind of surgery is also not very common and should therefore only be performed by someone who is experienced in the area. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not popular choices in the treatment of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid. In some cases radiation may be used as a follow up to surgery. New treatments continue to be researched and there are always further developments being made.


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