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Check Your Neck for Thyroid Cancer

Written by Randall Michel, MD on in Blog

September marks Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, making it a particularly good time to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this most common endocrine cancer.

September marks Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, making it a particularly good time to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this most common endocrine cancer.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck and just below Adam’s apple. It produces hormones that regulate metabolism. Thyroid cancer occurs when the normal cells in the thyroid begin to divide out of control and form tumors.

Thyroid cancer occurs in all age groups, though mainly in adults. It also affects about three times as many women as men and is the 5th most common cancer for females.

According to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association Inc., this cancer is one of the few cancers with increased incidences in the past few years. Estimates project that this year, about 52,070 people, including 37,810 women and 14,260 men, will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the U.S. Of those, about 2,170 are projected to have terminal cases.

Signs to discuss with your Physician

  • If you feel a lump in your neck
  • If your lymph nodes feel swollen
  • If you feel fullness in your neck
  • If you have voice changes
  • If you have difficulty swallowing or breathing.

The cause of most thyroid cancer is unknown, but people are said to have a higher chance of getting thyroid cancer if they were exposed to large amounts of radiation during childhood, or received radiation treatment for medical problems in the head and neck area at a young age.

According to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association Inc., cancer may not occur until 20 years or more after the initial radiation exposure. With this cancer, there are a few main types: papillary, follicular, medullary, anaplastic, and variants.

More than 90 percent of all thyroid cancers are in the categories of papillary and follicular, which tend to grow slowly.

According to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, treatment for thyroid cancer is individualized, particularly if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other sites such as lung or bone.

Some of the options for treatment include:

  • Surgery: This is typically the main treatment for thyroid cancer and involves the removal of the thyroid, and sometimes surrounding lymph nodes.
  • Waiting: Depending on circumstances, some physicians may choose to wait on surgery, and do periodic testing to see if the cancer changes in size.
  • Radioactive Iodine Ablation: This is used for people with differentiated thyroid cancer, such as papillary and follicular.

The association indicates that a number of other treatments are being studied for advanced thyroid cancer, including immunotherapy.

During Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, organizations urge people with possible symptoms of the disease to “Get a Neck Check.”

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Author: Randall Michel, MD, Director of Med/Staff Affairs

Dr. Randall Michel is the LVMC Director of Medical Staff Affairs. An Otolaryngologist, Dr. Michel previously served as Operating Room Medical Director and Chief of the Medical Staff. He is a past recipient of the Lompoc Valley Medical Center Physician of the Year honor. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.