September is the Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month and we would like to take a moment to discuss about thyroid cancer since it is the most rapidly increasing cancer by incidence in the United States. Thyroid cancer affects all people of all ages, from young children to seniors. Thankfully, due to the successful treatment of early-detected cases, the death rate from thyroid cancer has been fairly stable and low for many years.
Similar to other types of thyroid diseases, thyroid cancers occur about 3 times more often in women than in men. A major risk factor for this cancer is the level of exposure to radiation, which could result from certain medical treatments and radiation fallout from power plant accidents or nuclear weapons. Undergoing radiation treatment in the past, especially during childhood, is also a risk factor.
About one third of medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs) result from inheriting an abnormal gene. This familial medullary thyroid carcinoma can be detected through blood tests and can be prevented or treated early by removing the thyroid gland. If you have a family history of MTC, it may be a good idea to see a doctor who can test the rest of the family for the mutated gene.
Most cases of thyroid cancer are now detected earlier than before and can be treated successfully. Signs or symptoms include:
- A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes up to the ears
- Continuing hoarseness or other voice changes
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- Constant cough that is not due to a cold
It is recommended by doctors that people examine their own necks every once in a while to look and feel for any growths or lumps. Lumps in the thyroid are common and usually benign, but it is important to see your doctor as soon as you detect any of these symptoms.
The treatment will depend on the type and the stage of your thyroid cancer. Treatment options include surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, thyroid hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and few others. Often times, two or more of these methods are combined. For choosing the best treatment method for you, it is critical to be informed of all choices and to discuss them with your doctor.
Cancer care does not end after the treatments are finished. Making lifestyle changes is necessary in order to live a healthy rest of your life. Quitting unhealthy habits, such as smoking, can have positive effects on your body. Fatigue can be very common in people who have undergone treatments for cancer. Although fatigue does not go away by resting, it can be reduced with exercise. Exercise is beneficial for both your physical and emotional health, making it one of the most helpful lifestyle changes you can make. There is no solid evidence on how one can prevent cancer from progressing or coming back, but it is never meaningless to adopt healthy lifestyle changes because of the positive impacts they will have on your overall health.