September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Thyroid cancer is relatively uncommon compared to other cancers, but like many other types of cancer, if caught early, thyroid cancer can be treated.
Dr. Niharika Yedla, endocrinologist with Quincy Medical Group (QMG), cares for patients with conditions of the thyroid, including thyroid cancer. There are different kinds of thyroid cancer including papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
“The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck,” Dr. Yedla explained. “The thyroid’s function is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should. It helps regulate body metabolism.”
The most common way to detect thyroid cancer is through neck examination by your primary care provider. During this examination, your doctor will feel for any thyroid nodules.
“Thyroid cancer often presents as a lump or nodule in the thyroid and usually does not cause any symptoms. Blood tests generally do not help to find thyroid cancer and thyroid blood tests such as TSH are usually normal, even when a cancer is present,” said Dr. Yedla.
Dr. Yedla added that thyroid nodules are often discovered incidentally on imaging tests like CT scans and neck ultrasound done for unrelated reasons. Occasionally, patients themselves find thyroid nodules by noticing a lump in their neck while looking in a mirror, buttoning their collar, or fastening a necklace.
Rarely do thyroid cancers cause symptoms, but in some cases, a patient may experience signs, she said. If a nodule is large enough to compress the windpipe or food pipe, it may cause difficulty with breathing, swallowing, or cause a “tickle in the throat”. Even less commonly, hoarseness can be caused if thyroid cancer invades the nerve that controls the vocal cords.
“The important points to remember are that cancers arising in thyroid nodules generally do not cause symptoms, thyroid function tests are typically normal even when cancer is present, and the best way to find a thyroid nodule is to make sure that your doctor examines your neck as part of your periodic check-up,” explained Dr. Yedla.
Thyroid cancer is usually very treatable and is often cured with surgery and, if indicated, radioactive iodine.
“Even when thyroid cancer is more advanced, effective treatment is available for the most common forms of thyroid cancer. Even though the diagnosis of cancer is terrifying, the prognosis for most patients with papillary and follicular thyroid cancer is usually excellent,” said Dr. Yedla.
For more information on the QMG Endocrinology team and services, visit https://quincymedgroup.com/medical-services/endocrinology/ or call (217) 222-6550, ext. 3443.