Cancer Awareness: Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is small, shaped like a butterfly, and located about where a bowtie would be worn—in the lower front of your neck.  Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer from a hormone gland.

Over 60,000 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2016.  This year, almost 2000 people in the United States die of thyroid cancer.  The death rate from thyroid cancer has been fairly steady since 1975 and remains very low compared with most other cancers.  Thyroid cancers occur about 3 times more often in women than in men.  Yet the number of men dying from thyroid cancer is almost the same as the number of women dying from thyroid cancer.  Other risk factors for thyroid cancer include family history, radiation treatments to your neck during childhood, or radiation fallout (such as from power plant accidents).   However, most people who develop thyroid cancer do not have a family history of the disease or exposure to those types of radiation.

Many thyroid cancers are found by doctors during a routine physical exam.  Thyroid cancer might be discovered during an ultrasound of the neck or a CT scan done for other reasons.  Thyroid cancer sometimes causes a visible lump in your neck, trouble swallowing, trouble breathing, or hoarseness.  If you have any symptoms suggesting thyroid cancer, then visit your doctor.

There are several different types of thyroid cancer.  For almost all thyroid cancers, surgery is the main treatment.  Depending upon the type of thyroid cancer, treatment options may include: radioactive iodine, higher than normal doses of thyroid hormone, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy.   We strive to cure or control the thyroid cancer, but not expose people to unnecessary treatment.  We now have better tools and more information to help us match the treatment to thyroid cancer.

To learn more about disorders of the thyroid, you should check out the American Thyroid Association (http://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-cancer/), ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. at http://thyca.org/ or by telephone at 877-588-7904, and the American Cancer Society at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroidcancer/index.

Physician Background:

Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr is a board certified endocrinologist and member of Cone Health Medical Staff.  Dr. Kerr is a 2000 graduate of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.  He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Cone Health and completed his fellowship in Endocrinology at Southern Illinois School of Medicine.