September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month and we thought we would share some information about this important gland, its function, and the risks and symptoms of thyroid cancer. As with all cancers, awareness plays a key role in timely diagnosis and treatment that makes cure possible. If you or someone you know is at risk and/or has any of the signs and symptoms of this disease, please seek care from your physician right away.
As the National Cancer Institute describes, the thyroid gland is an organ located in the front of the neck. It is shaped like a butterfly and has two main functions: Follicular cells use iodine from the blood to regulate the body’s metabolism and C cells make calcitonin, a chemical that regulates how the body uses calcium. Cancers can develop in either and the type of thyroid cancer determines what parts of the body are impacted by the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 53,990 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in 2018 and about 2,060 will die from this disease. While the rate of mortality from thyroid cancer remains low, more people are being diagnosed than ever before. As the American Cancer Society reports “The chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has risen in recent years and is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US tripling in the past three decades. Much of this rise appears to be the result of the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules that might not otherwise have been found in the past.”
Changes in size of the thyroid gland is referred to as goiter and goiters can be diffuse, or spread throughout, or concentrated with nodules, also called a nodular goiter. When tumors can spread cells to other parts of the body it is referred to as malignant. The thyroid gland cannot normally be felt in patients. But if a patient can suddenly feel her thyroid, then it is time to visit the doctor.
Many of the risk factors associated with thyroid cancer cannot be changed, like age, heredity, family history, and gender. Some factors can be modified, such as a diet with sufficient iodine and avoiding exposure to radiation.
The following symptoms are often associated with thyroid cancer:
- A lump in the neck, sometimes growing rapidly
- 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
For more information on thyroid cancer, support and advocacy, please visit the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association.
If you have recently been diagnosed with any type of cancer and need help to pay for out-of-pocket costs like premiums, deductibles, copays or prescriptions, please see our link to free financial assistance programs for cancer patients for many no-cost nationwide programs that are available to help you right now at zero cost to you.