Thyroid Cancer Awareness


September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the front of the neck. It produces thyroid hormone, which controls your metabolism, temperature regulation, and keeps your muscles and organs working properly.

Thyroid cancer is very common, particularly in women. It is now one of the most common cancers found in women. Most forms of thyroid cancer are slow growing and well-treated with surgery and sometimes other therapies.

Thyroid cancers are often found within nodules that are either felt by the patient or their doctor. These nodules are also frequently found incidentally, for example, when the patient has an imaging test not related to the thyroid.

What causes thyroid cancer?

In most patients, it is unknown why thyroid cancer forms. It is more common in people who have a history of radiation exposure to the thyroid gland during childhood or a family history of thyroid cancer, but this is not the case for most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is also more common as we get older.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Many patients with thyroid cancer do not report any symptoms, though the following symptoms may be present:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Voice changes
  • A lump in the neck

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

A diagnosis of thyroid cancer is suspected from a biopsy of a thyroid nodule or is made after the nodule is removed during surgery. Although thyroid nodules are very common, less than 1 in 10 contain a thyroid cancer. There are no blood tests to diagnose thyroid cancer.

What is the treatment for thyroid cancer?

The treatment for thyroid cancer is to remove the thyroid gland, which is called a thyroidectomy. In many cases the whole thyroid needs to be removed and the lymph nodes surrounding the thyroid may be removed at the same time. In some cases only part of the thyroid gland needs to be removed.

After thyroid surgery, do I need to take thyroid medication?

If the removal of your whole thyroid gland is performed, you will require a medication to replace your body store of thyroid hormone. This medication will need to be taken daily, and your surgeon or endocrinologist may adjust the dosage. The medicine completely replaces what the thyroid gland was producing.

What is the prognosis of thyroid cancer?

Overall, the prognosis of thyroid cancer is very good, especially for patients younger than 55 years of age and for those with small cancers. Even patients who are unable to be cured of their thyroid cancer are able to live many years and feel well despite their cancer.

What is the follow-up for thyroid cancer patients?

Periodic follow-up examinations are essential for all thyroid cancer patients and include seeing your treating doctor and getting blood tests such as TSH and thyroglobulin.

Can thyroid cancer recur after surgery and treatment?

Thyroid cancer can return is some cases, and your surgeon and endocrinologist will monitor for any signs of recurrent disease through blood tests and ultrasound examination.

Should you have questions or concerns about your thyroid, contact your Family Medicine provider for a consultation. If you do not have a Family Medicine provider, contact the CCMH Medical Clinic at 712-265-2700 to schedule an appointment.