Overview

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 the neck. It secretes hormones that are essential for regulating the body's metabolism.

Hurthle cell cancer is also called Hurthle cell carcinoma or oxyphilic cell carcinoma. This is one of several types of cancers that affect the thyroid.

This type of cancer can be more aggressive than other types of thyroid cancer. Surgery to remove the thyroid gland is the most common treatment.

Symptoms

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.

When they do occur, signs and symptoms may include:

  • A lump in the neck, just below the Adam's apple
  • Pain in the neck or throat
  • Hoarseness or other changes in your voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swallowing difficulty

These signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean that you have Hurthle cell cancer. They may be indications of other medical conditions — such as inflammation of the thyroid gland or an enlargement of the thyroid (goiter).

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your health care provider if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Causes

It's not clear what causes Hurthle cell cancer.

This cancer begins when cells in the thyroid develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The DNA changes, which doctors call mutations, tell the thyroid cells to grow and multiply quickly. The cells develop the ability to continue living when other cells would naturally die. The accumulating cells form a mass called a tumor that can invade and destroy healthy tissue nearby and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer include:

  • Being female
  • Being older
  • Having a history of radiation treatments to the head and neck
  • Having a family history of thyroid cancer

Complications

Possible complications of Hurthle cell cancer include:

  • Problems with swallowing and breathing. They can occur if the cancer grows and presses on the food tube (esophagus) and windpipe (trachea).
  • Spread of the cancer. Hurthle cell cancer can spread (metastasize) to other tissues and organs, making treatment and recovery more difficult.

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March 01, 2022
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