March 14, 2023
4 facts about Hurthle cell carcinoma
BY Molly Adams
There are four main types of thyroid cells: follicular, papillary, medullary and Hurthle. While they’re all different, each of these cells plays an important role in creating hormones that help your body regulate blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and other important functions.
Normally, these cells work together in harmony, but changes to their molecular profile could make some cells grow out of control, which can lead to thyroid cancer. Although Hurthle cell carcinoma is rare, it can be aggressive.
“When patients read ‘Hurthle cell’ on a pathology report, they may worry,” says Nancy Perrier, M.D., who specializes in treating thyroid cancer in MD Anderson’s Endocrine Center. “But Hurthle cells alone aren’t always a cause for concern.”
Here, Perrier shares four facts about Hurthle cell carcinoma.
1. Hurthle cells are normal cells.
The most important thing I want patients to know is that Hurthle cells are normal cells. They’re part of a healthy thyroid, so don’t be surprised if you have a nodule biopsied and find Hurthle cells in the report.
The presence of Hurthle cells – or any other potentially cancerous cells within a thyroid – just means we need to do more investigating to see what’s going on inside that nodule that has a majority of those cells.
In addition to a biopsy, your care team should perform a physical exam, so they can see how the nodule feels. Cancerous nodules tend to be firmer than benign ones.
They’ll also want to do an ultrasound to see the shape and texture of the nodule. Round, smooth-looking nodules are common and usually benign.
2. Hurthle cell carcinoma diagnosis comes after treatment.
When you have a thyroid issue that’s worrisome for cancer and causing trouble breathing or swallowing, or making your voice hoarse, the first step is usually to remove part or all of the thyroid through surgery.
From there, we can look at the gland and the nodule within it to see what’s happening at the cell level. So, even if a nodule has a high number of Hurthle cells, patients aren’t officially diagnosed with Hurthle cell carcinoma until after surgical removal.
Until the official post-surgery report, your care team may use words like “suspected Hurthle cell adenoma” or “Hurthle cell neoplasm” to describe nodular findings.
3. Hurthle cell nodules are usually benign.
There are far fewer Hurthle cells in our bodies than other cells, so the odds of Hurthle cell carcinoma are low. And, there are many more benign Hurthle cells than malignant ones.
The risk of Hurthle cell nodules being cancerous is about 15%, compared to papillary types of cells, which make up about 80% of thyroid cancer diagnoses.
4. Seek care from a center with experience treating thyroid cancer.
It’s important to seek care from a cancer center with experience diagnosing and treating thyroid cancer. This is the best way to ensure you’re getting the right treatment. Thyroid surgery is a delicate procedure, so you should seek a skilled surgeon. Even if you have to wait to see a surgeon who specializes in thyroid cancer, this delay is worth it to reduce the risk of substantial problems after surgery.
Removing part or all of your thyroid may require you to take daily pills to keep your hormones balanced. Be sure you talk to your care team to discuss your treatment and quality of life goals.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
Hurthle cells aren’t always cause for concern.
Nancy Perrier, M.D.