Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s just start with the surprising truth—that thyroid cancer is becoming more prevalent and more deadly than ever before. So, what does this mean for you?
Well, if you’re a woman (of any age) and you have a thyroid condition (like 27 million Americans), thyroid cancer should be on your health radar.
Now, for the good news: thyroid cancer is generally easy to treat. But of course, like other types of cancer, early detection and routine screenings are essential. If you’re like most people, though, you may not know much about your thyroid—like where it’s even located. Not to worry, I-Wen Chang, MD, an oncologist affiliated with Gwinnett Medical Center, provides the 9 facts about thyroid cancer everyone should know:
1. Cancer doesn’t stop your thyroid from working.
Your thyroid keeps your body’s systems in check. Thanks to the hormones it produces, your metabolism, heart rate and energy levels are all kept running smoothly.
Despite its small size, your thyroid is often able to function normally with cancer present. While this may seem like a good thing, a functioning thyroid may make cancer harder to detect, since there are no noticeable symptoms.
2. The prevalence of thyroid cancer has tripled.
Even though the number of new diagnoses isn’t as high as breast cancer or colorectal cancer, thyroid cancer is actually the most rapidly-increasing cancer in the U.S. In fact, some experts estimate that the number of new diagnoses has tripled.
3. Thyroid cancer is often diagnosed in women (of all ages).
75% of all thyroid cancer cases are women, but unfortunately, this isn’t surprising. For starters, women are twice as likely to have some of the most common thyroid conditions, like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. And these conditions, while treatable, do increase a woman’s risk of thyroid cancer.
4. You could have thyroid cancer and not know it.
Identifying thyroid cancer can be difficult. Not only does it typically present without symptoms, there also aren’t any routine screenings in place for thyroid cancer. So, because it’s able to develop under the radar, it often goes unchecked.
Yet another reason for this is the fact that nearly 80% of thyroid cancers are papillary, meaning they grow very slowly.
5. Treatments are effective—if found early.
The success of thyroid cancer treatment is almost unheard of—nearly 100 percent of cases are cured. That’s because the surgical approach (typically used) is able to remove all of the cancerous growths, even if it’s spread to local lymph nodes. But let’s not forget—early detection is critical.
Checking in on your thyroid.
The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump. While it may sound like it’d be hard to miss, the lump isn’t always obvious. So, to check yourself for a lump in your thyroid, follow these simple steps:
- Tip your chin up in the mirror and swallow.
- Look for a lump that moves up and down. Focus on the notch between the base of your neck and the top of your breastbone.
- If you notice something, it's always worth checking in with your doctor.