Today, 4/3/2019, on the Dr. Oz show, he informs us of what we need to know about thyroid cancer. There is a worrisome trend emerging that puts the lives of women at great risk, and you might be staring at it each time you look in the mirror. The number of cases of thyroid cancer has more than doubled since the 1970s and that has a lot of people wondering why. Thyroid cancer is one of those stealth cancers that can grow under the radar, sometimes for decades. For this reason, catching it early is critical. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 52,070 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in 2019. For comparison, over 250,000 individuals will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.
It’s a wonder that this tiny gland with so much responsibility would fail to announce it is harboring a potentially deadly cancer. The thyroid gland is the body’s engine driver; it manufactures the thyroid hormone that is used to fuel metabolism and oversees the activities of other critical hormones produced elsewhere. When the amount of thyroid hormone is unbalanced – too much hormone causes hyperthyroidism, too little, hypothyroidism – it can wreak havoc in the body.
The thyroid gland is located just under the skin, splayed like a butterfly across the windpipe, right below the Adam’s apple. About six percent of women and 1% of men with adequate dietary iodine (an essential element for thyroid health) have small bumps of tissue in and about the gland called thyroid nodules. For the most part, thyroid nodules never cause any trouble; they are just benign irregularities.
Here’s what you – and your doctor – should look for.
What is a thyroid nodule?
A thyroid nodule is a growth in the thyroid gland. About half of adults actually have a thyroid nodule by age 60. Only five percent of them can be felt and the rest are so small they can only be detected by ultrasound. The good news is that over 90 percent of them are benign.
How often do benign thyroid nodules turn into cancer?
We don’t know the exact number but based on the data we do have it appears to be very low. In a large study looking at changes in benign nodules over five years, only 0.3 percent became cancer.
How common is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer cases have slowly been increasing over the past decade, but compared to other cancers it is relatively uncommon. Thyroid cancer represents only about three percent of all new cancer cases. Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
- A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
- Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- A constant cough that is not due to a cold
What is the prognosis for thyroid cancer?
Most thyroid cancers have a very good prognosis. In fact, the five-year survival for thyroid cancer is over 98 percent. That’s because most thyroid cancers are what we call “well differentiated,” which means they haven’t changed much from the thyroid cells they started out as, so they do not tend to spread. The most common type of thyroid cancer is called papillary cancer and it grows very, very slowly. When papillary thyroid cancer is found and it hasn’t spread at all, five-year survival is basically 100 percent.
How is thyroid cancer treated?
Thyroid cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the thyroid is usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer cells. A surgeon will typically remove either half or all, of the thyroid gland. Surgery alone is often enough, but in some cases, radioactive iodine can be given after surgery to further eliminate cancer cells. Since the thyroid is usually removed, many people will need to take thyroid hormone after surgery.
The risk of a nodule being cancerous is that same no matter how the nodule is found. Thankfully, most cancers are detected at an early curable stage; and a large percentage are disease-free after treatment.
Photo courtesy of Bing via thyroidabout.com