Written by: Kheng Joe Lau, MD, Endocrinologist
Thyroid Cancer Awareness: Understanding the Basics and Seeking Help
Thyroid cancer, a relatively rare yet increasingly diagnosed malignancy, requires our attention to ensure timely detection and effective treatment. In 2023, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be around 43,720 new cases of thyroid cancer in the United States. This includes about 12,540 cases in men and 31,180 cases in women. This article aims to shed light on the signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of thyroid cancer in a way that anyone can comprehend. Whether you’re a patient or a concerned individual, understanding these aspects is crucial for early intervention and improved outcomes.
Recognizing Signs and Symptoms: When to Suspect Thyroid Cancer
The thyroid gland, a small butterfly-shaped organ in your neck, controls your body’s metabolism by producing hormones that influence things like energy, heart rate, and body temperature. Like other organs in the body, thyroid gland can also become cancerous.
Most do not know this, but thyroid cancer frequently presents itself at an earlier age compared to most other adult cancers. On average, individuals receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis around the age of 51.
Thyroid cancer often doesn’t exhibit obvious symptoms in its early stages, making awareness important for early detection. While some symptoms can be mistaken for common ailments, persistent signs should raise suspicion. Keep an eye out for unexplained hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or a noticeable lump or swelling in your neck. Fatigue, unexplained weight changes, and neck pain are also factors to consider. If any of these symptoms linger or worsen over time, consulting a healthcare professional is essential.
Diagnostic Steps by Endocrinologists
If thyroid cancer is suspected by your primary doctor, an endocrinologist will play a vital role in confirming the diagnosis. They are specialists who focus on disorders related to the endocrine system, including the thyroid gland.
First, an ultrasound of the thyroid gland will help identify the presence of thyroid mass or thyroid nodules.
Next, a fine-needle aspiration biopsy guided by ultrasound might be performed on nodules that are suspicious, involving the removal of cells for examination under a microscope.
According to the American Thyroid Association, up to 7% of adult women and 2-3% of adult men have palpable thyroid nodules. However, the good news is most of these nodules are benign. Only about 5-15% of thyroid nodules that are evaluated through ultrasound and fine-needle aspiration biopsy turn out to be cancer.
Collaborative Treatment Approach: Thyroid Surgeons and Endocrinologists
Upon confirmation of thyroid cancer, a collaborative approach between thyroid surgeons and endocrinologists ensures the best possible treatment outcomes. Thyroid surgeons are skilled professionals who specialize in removing thyroid nodules and, if necessary, the entire thyroid gland. The type of surgery required will depend on the extent and nature of the cancer. Some patients might undergo a total thyroidectomy, while others may only need a partial thyroidectomy.
After surgery, some people may need to take a special kind of iodine that’s radioactive. Thyroid cells absorb this iodine, and the radioactivity helps kill any remaining cancer cells. It’s usually taken as a pill.
Endocrinologists continue to play a crucial role post-surgery. If a total thyroidectomy is performed, patients will require thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest of their lives. Endocrinologists carefully monitor hormone levels and adjust medication dosages as needed to maintain optimal health and well-being. Additionally, ongoing surveillance such as monitoring blood tumor markers and routine ultrasounds are essential to detect any recurrence of the cancer.
Thyroid cancer is a condition that demands our attention and understanding. By recognizing the signs and symptoms, individuals can take charge of their health and seek medical advice when needed.
Endocrinologists play a pivotal role in diagnosing thyroid cancer through a series of tests and procedures. If diagnosed, the combined expertise of thyroid surgeons and endocrinologists ensures comprehensive treatment, from surgical intervention to long-term hormone replacement and follow-up care. As an endocrinologist at Western Wisconsin Health, I am excited to announce my partnership with Dr Ben Addicks, our ENT surgeon in the management of thyroid cancer.
Ultimately, our awareness and proactive approach are the cornerstones of fighting thyroid cancer. As we strive for early detection and effective treatment, remember that knowledge is power. By spreading awareness and understanding, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by thyroid cancer and contribute to a healthier future for all.
If you believe that you need to be evaluated for thyroid related conditions, please contact Western Wisconsin Health at 715-684-1111 to set up appointment for your care.
- American Cancer Society
- American Thyroid Association