I am a thyroid cancer survivor.
I’ve definitely learned a lot of thyroid cancer facts in the last 2.5 years but I am sort of embarrassed to say I didn’t know anything about it before my diagnosis. You can read a little about my journey in this blog post.
I’ve known and loved people who fought liver cancer, breast cancer, and leukemia. For many years, I worked in child and adult oncology units, providing care to some of the bravest warriors I’ve ever had the honor of meeting. But thyroid cancer? Wasn’t even on my radar.
Thyroid cancer facts
Medical illustration showing the location of the thyroid and a thyroid tumor.
Thyroid cancer statistics
Cancer.net lists these thyroid cancer facts:
In 2016, “an estimated 56,870 adults (14,400 men and 42,470 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women. It is the most common cancer in women 20 to 34. About 2% of cases occur in children and teens.
The incidence rates of thyroid cancer in both women and men have been increasing in recent years, at a rate of about 5% more a year. In fact, it is the most rapidly increasing cancer diagnosis in the United States. Researchers believe that part of the reason for the increase is that new, highly sensitive diagnostic tests are leading to increased detection of smaller cancers.
It is estimated that 2,010 deaths (920 men and 1,090 women) from this disease will occur this year. Women are 3 times more likely to have thyroid cancer than men, but women and men die at similar rates. This suggests that men have a worse prognosis than women when there is a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Prognosis is the chance of recovery.
The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. Percent means how many out of 100. Overall, the 5-year survival rate for people with thyroid cancer is 98%.
However, survival rates are based on many factors, including the specific type of thyroid cancer, and stage of disease. If the cancer is located only in the thyroid, the 5-year survival rate is greater than 99%. If thyroid cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 98%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 55%.”
Thyroid cancer diagnosis
“It is common for people with thyroid cancer to have few or no symptoms. Thyroid cancers are often diagnosed by routine examination of the neck or are unintentionally found by x-rays or other imaging scans that were performed for other reasons. People with thyroid cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with thyroid cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be another medical condition that is not cancer.
- A lump in the front of the neck, near the Adam’s apple
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain in the throat or neck
- A cough that persists and is not caused by a cold”
Thyroid cancer treatment
The first step in treating thyroid cancer is a full or partial thyroidectomy. If the entire thyroid is removed, then Radioactive Iodine Therapy (RAI) “can be used to ablate (destroy) any thyroid tissue not removed by surgery or to treat some types of thyroid cancer that have spread to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.”
Having experienced RAI firsthand, I can tell you that it is a very challenging treatment to undergo. In order for your body to be the most receptive to absorbing as much of the RAI as possible, “patients must have high levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH or thyrotropin) in the blood. This substance stimulates thyroid tissue (and cancer cells) to take up radioactive iodine. If the thyroid has been removed, one way to raise TSH levels is to not take thyroid hormone pills for several weeks. This causes very low thyroid hormone levels (a condition known as hypothyroidism), which in turn causes the pituitary gland to release more TSH. This intentional hypothyroidism is temporary, but it often causes symptoms like tiredness, depression, weight gain, constipation, muscle aches, and reduced concentration.”
In addition to high levels of TSH, many patients are asked to prepare for RAI by adhering to a strict Low Iodine Diet for 1-2 weeks beforehand. Some of the foods that must be avoided during this time include: iodized and sea salt, red dye #3, dairy products, eggs, seafood, and soy. There is very little support out there for patients undergoing this diet and there is not a lot of education or consistency between providers. A non-profit organization, the LID Life Community, was created by Thyroid Cancer survivors especially to assist with patients preparing for RAI with the Low Iodine Diet and I am honored to be a part of their mission.
I hope that these basic thyroid cancer facts helped increase your understanding of this disease and the impact it has on those who are diagnosed.
Drop me a line if you have additional questions or want to share your story.
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