Thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer: What you need to know

What you need to know about thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer!

Recently a friend was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. When I first heard about it, I was understandably concerned. However, in conducting a little online research I was relieved to learn that the vast majority of thyroid cancer cases are curable.

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. It produces hormones that control metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Many adults develop solid or fluid-filled lumps called nodules that form on or within the thyroid gland. While most nodules are benign — fewer than 5 percent are cancerous — it’s a good idea to have them evaluated by a medical professional.

Physicians now use safe, painless ultrasound technology to evaluate nodules. Ultrasound screenings employ high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the thyroid. A screening can determine the size of a nodule and whether it is solid or a fluid-filled cyst.

The incidence of thyroid cancer has risen in recent years, mostly due to the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect even small thyroid nodules. The death rate from thyroid cancer has been fairly stable for many years and remains very low compared with most other cancers.

Thyroid cancer is commonly diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers. Nearly two-thirds of cases are found in people younger than age 55. About 2 percent of thyroid cancers occur in children and teens.

Risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

  • Exposure to high levels of radiation. Sources include radiation treatment to the head and neck and fallout from nuclear power plant accidents or weapons testing
  • Certain inherited genetic syndromes, such as familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia and familial adenomatous polyposis
  • Females are at higher risk

Because most thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms, people often don’t realize they have one until a doctor discovers it during a routine medical exam. Larger nodules may be visible as a swelling at the base of the neck or they may make swallowing or breathing difficult because they press on the esophagus.

“If you have a benign thyroid nodule, your doctor may suggest watchful waiting, which means having an examination and lab work at regular intervals,” said Joanna Couch, R.N., patient navigator, Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center. “If the nodule remains unchanged, you may never need treatment. Other nodules may be treated with medication. Occasionally, surgery may be needed, especially if the nodule is big enough to make it hard to breathe or swallow.”

Sometimes thyroid nodules produce additional thyroxine, a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland, which can cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Intolerance to heat
  • Tremors
  • Nervousness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Attend a free seminar to learn more and receive a free ultrasound screening:

What You Need to Know About Thyroid Nodules and Thyroid Cancer

Tuesday, Oct. 21

Thyroid screenings: 5 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m.

Presentation: 6 to 7 p.m.

Norton Audubon Hospital • Community Room (L2)

Call (502) 629-1234 to make a reservation.


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