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Hürthle cell thyroid cancer


The thyroid gland

The thyroid gland makes and releases hormones. It sits at the base of your neck at the front, just behind the small hollow where your collarbones meet. You can find out more about what the thyroid gland does in the thyroid cancer section.


What Hürthle cell thyroid cancer is

Hürthle cell cancers are a rare type of thyroid cancer. About 4 out of every 100 cases of thyroid cancer (4%) are this type. Hürthle cells are abnormal cells that can develop in the thyroid gland. They are sometimes present in people with non cancerous (benign) thyroid disease.

Hürthle cell cancers are usually grouped with follicular thyroid cancers as they have some similarities. But Hürthle cells look different to follicular cells when seen under a microscope. The cells are also called oxyphilic cells so this cancer is also sometimes called oxyphil cell cancer. Hürthle cell tumours can be benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Hürthle cell thyroid cancer tends to affect more women than men. It is also most commonly found in people around the age of 50.


Symptoms of Hürthle cell cancer

The symptoms of Hürthle cell thyroid cancer are the same as for other types of thyroid cancer. They include

  • A lump at the base of your neck
  • A hoarse voice that doesn’t get better
  • Soreness or difficulty swallowing
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cough that is not due to a chest problem

Diagnosing Hürthle cell cancer

If your doctor suspects you have Hürthle cell cancer, you will need to have some tests. As with other types of thyroid cancer you will have

The needle biopsy will show if there are Hürthle cells present, but won’t necessarily show if they are cancerous. If the biopsy shows Hürthle cells, you are likely to need an operation to remove the lump. Then a pathologist will examine samples of the tumour to see if it is cancerous.

If the lump is cancerous, you will need further tests to help your doctor decide which treatment you should have. Unlike other follicular cell cancers, Hürthle cell cancers are less likely to affect the lymph glands in your neck. But they can spread to other parts of your body.


Treating Hürthle cell cancer

Surgery is the main treatment for Hürthle cell thyroid cancer. Your doctor may recommend removing part of the thyroid gland (a lobectomy) or your whole thyroid gland. This is called a total thyroidectomy. Taking out the whole thyroid gland reduces the chance of the cancer returning later. There is detailed information about thyroidectomy in the surgery for thyroid cancer section.

After a total thyroidectomy, you will need to take tablets to replace the hormones that your thyroid gland would normally make.

Some people have treatment with radioactive iodine after surgery for Hürthle cell cancer. Hürthle cells don’t take up radioactive iodine very well, so this treatment doesn’t generally work as well as it does for papillary and follicular thyroid cancers. But your doctor may suggest it if your tests show signs of any remaining thyroid tissue after your surgery.


After your treatment

After your treatment has finished, you will see your doctor regularly for check ups. Gradually, if all is well, you have the appointments less often. After a total thyroidectomy, you will need to take replacement thyroid hormones. At first, you may need to go to the hospital more often to have blood tests so that your doctor can make sure your hormone levels are right.

As with any cancer, there is a risk that your cancer could come back in the future. At your check ups, do talk to your doctor about any worries you have. It may be possible for you to have blood tests for a marker produced by Hürthle cell cancers called thyroglobulin. There is information about check ups for thyroid cancer in the main thyroid cancer section.


Coping with cancer

Coping with a rare condition can be difficult, both practically and emotionally. Being well informed about your condition and its treatment can help you to make decisions and cope with what happens.

The coping section has lots of information about coping emotionally, practically and physically.

It can also help to talk to other people who have the same thing. But it can be hard to find people who have had a rare type of cancer. Check out Cancer Chat – Cancer Research UK's discussion forum. It is a place for anyone affected by cancer to share experiences, stories and information with other people who know what you are going through.

You may also find it helpful to contact the Rare Cancer Alliance or the Rarer Cancers Foundation who offer support and information to people who have rare cancers.

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Updated: 3 December 2014