What is Hurthle cell cancer?
Hurthle 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.
How common is Hurthle cell cancer?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Hurthle cell cancer?
The common symptoms of Hurthle cell cancer are:
- A fast-growing lump in your neck, just below your Adam’s apple
- Pain in your neck or throat
- Hoarseness or other changes in your voice
- Shortness of breath
- Swallowing difficulty
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Hurthle cell cancer?
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.
What increases my risk for Hurthle cell cancer?
There are many risk factors for Hurthle cell cancer, such as:
- Being female
- Being older
- Having a history of radiation treatments to the head and neck
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Hurthle cell cancer diagnosed?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose Hurthle cell cancer include:
- Physical exam. Your doctor will examine your neck, checking the size of your thyroid and seeing whether your lymph nodes are swollen.
- Blood tests. They may reveal abnormalities in your thyroid function that give your doctor more information about your condition.
- Imaging tests. They can help your doctor determine whether an abnormal growth is present in the thyroid. Imaging tests may include ultrasound, CT scan, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET).
- Removing a sample of thyroid tissue for testing (biopsy). During a thyroid biopsy, a fine needle is passed through the skin of your neck guided by ultrasound images. The needle is attached to a syringe, which withdraws a sample of thyroid tissue. The sample is analyzed in a laboratory for signs of cancer.
How is Hurthle cell cancer treated?
What surgery may be indicated for hurthle cell cancer?
Hurthle cell cancer is almost always treated with surgery as its first therapy. It is important to understand that the best chance of cure is to have an expert thyroid cancer surgeon from the beginning. A surgeon who performs surgery for thyroid cancer several times per week (or more often) has a higher cure rate than a surgeon who performs thyroid surgery once or twice per week, or does primarily other types of thyroid surgery (like for goiters). Surgery for thyroid cancer has become very specialized so it is important for you to be comfortable with your choice of surgeon. Surgery for hurthle cell cancer is filled with a number of choices. If the cancer is big (over 4 cm or 1.75 inch) then the entire thyroid is usually removed. However, there is controversy over how much thyroid should be removed if the cancer is small and exhibits little evidence of invasion of the thyroid capsule or blood vessel invasion. Some expert thyroid surgeons contend that if the cancer is small and not invading other tissues (the usual case) then simply removing the half of the thyroid (called the thyroid lobe) which contains the cancer will provide as good a chance of cure as removing the entire thyroid. See a thyroid lobectomy surgery. This is a brief surgical procedure of around 30 minutes. It is a very small incision and the surgery spares all critical structures and removes only the thyroid gland itself. It can be the correct surgical procedure for many small cancers. Sometimes operative findings will determine that the whole thyroid gland must be removed despite the initial plan to just do a thyroid lobectomy. See how critical it is for your surgery to be performed by a highly experienced surgeon to change the surgery to a total thyroidectomy due to findings noted at the time of surgery.
Many surgeons prefer the older method of removing the entire thyroid (see a total thyroidectomy) for all thyroid cancers. How much surgery is performed has an important impact on how you are managed afterwards, how much thyroid hormone you need and many other factors. Because there are many choices to make, it is important that you have a surgeon that understands every option and how it will affect your overall cure rate, whether more surgery will be needed in the future, and many other things. Get the best thyroid cancer surgeon that you can!
What about thyroid hormone pills after hurthle cell cancer surgery?
Regardless of whether a patient has just half of the thyroid removed, or the entire thyroid gland removed, most experts agree they should be placed on a thyroid hormone pill for the rest of their lives. This is to replace the hormone in those who have no thyroid gland remaining, and to suppress further growth of thyroid cells (and hurthle cell cancer cells) in those with some thyroid tissue left in the neck. There is good evidence that hurthle cell cancer responds to thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) secreted by the pituitary, therefore, a thyroid hormone pill is given which results in decreased TSH hormone levels and a lower potential for any remaining microscopic cancer cells to grow. Recurrence and mortality rates have been shown to be lower in patients receiving adequate amounts of thyroid hormone pills. Much more is written for you in sections of Diagnosis of Hurthle Cell Cancer and determining what extent of surgery is right for you.
After surgery: Radioactive iodine and long-term follow-up
Almost all people who had surgery for hurthle cell cancer will need to see a doctor for many years to have periodic examinations and certain blood tests to make sure the cancer has been cured, and to detect any return of the cancer as soon as possible should it return. Many people with hurthle cell cancer will need to take radioactive iodine to help cure the cancer. Much more is written about radioactive iodine treatment for hurthle cell cancer and long term follow-up of hurthle cell cancer. We have several very important pages on these topics.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Hurthle cell cancer?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Hurthle cell cancer:
- Find someone to talk with. You may feel comfortable discussing your feelings with a friend or family member, or you might prefer meeting with a formal support group. Support groups for the families of cancer survivors also are available.
- Let people help. Cancer treatments can be exhausting. Let friends and family know what would be most useful for you.
- Set reasonable goals. Having goals helps you feel in control and can give you a sense of purpose. But choose goals that you can reach.
- Take time for yourself. Eating well, relaxing and getting enough rest can help combat the stress and fatigue of cancer.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 14, 2017 | Last Modified: December 9, 2019
Hurthle cell cancer. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hurthle-cell-cancer/basics/definition/con-20025920. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Hurthle Cell Cancer of the Thyroid Overview. http://www.thyroidcancer.com/thyroid-cancer/hurthle. Accessed September 13, 2017.