Thyroid cancer is very treatable, but can be difficult to detect

Posted at 9:28 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 15:30:44-05

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is normally located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormones, which are secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Although less common than some other cancers, in the United States it is estimated that in 2016 approximately 64,000 new patients will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain and heart and other organs and muscles functioning,” said Kelsey DeSalvo, MD an endocrinologist with Intermountain Medical Group at the Intermountain Salt Lake Clinic.

“Thyroid cancer doesn’t often cause symptoms, but it will present as a lump or nodule,” said Dr. DeSalvo. “Sometimes patients notice a lump in their neck, but more commonly it is found when a doctor is checking your neck during a routine exam or when imaging tests are done for an unrelated issue.”

Dr. DeSalvo says that even typical thyroid blood tests don’t help to find cancer, so it is important to make sure your doctor examines your neck at your annual check-up.

“The good news is that thyroid cancer is generally treatable,” said Dr. DeSalvo.

According to the American Thyroid Association, ten year survival for such patients is 100% and death from thyroid cancer anytime thereafter is extremely rare.

For patients older than 45 years of age, or those with larger or more aggressive tumors, the prognosis remains very good, but the risk of cancer recurrence is higher.

The prognosis may not be quite as good in patients whose cancer is more advanced and cannot be completely removed with surgery or destroyed with radioactive iodine treatment. However, these patients often are able to live a long time and feel well, despite the fact that they continue to live with cancer. It is important to talk to your doctor about your individual profile of cancer and expected prognosis. It will also be necessary to have lifelong monitoring, even after successful treatment.

Thyroid cancer is treated most commonly by surgery to remove tumors. If the cancer is larger or appears to have spread radioactive iodine therapy my be used to eliminate remaining thyroid tissue, including cancerous or potentially cancer tissue.

With either treatment, most patients need to be on thyroid hormone therapy the rest of their lives,” said Dr. DeSalvo. “Balancing potential risks against the benefits of treatment options is an important discussion that you should have with your doctor.”

For further diagnosis and treatment, see an endocrinologist who specializes in gland and hormone issues