Your Guide to Thyroid Disease and Thyroid Cancer At Any Age

January 16, 2021 by Publisher

Thirty million Americans are affected by thyroid disease, and by now in your life you probably know someone that has a thyroid issue but, what you may have not realized is how serious it really is. 

January is Thyroid Disease Awareness Month, a time to further understand Thyroid Disease and Thyroid Cancer.

Your thyroid is a vital hormone gland and plays a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. It produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate; controlling heart, muscle and digestive function, brain development and bone maintenance. 

Where is your thyroid gland and how do you know if you have an issue?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the front of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. 

A simple blood test from your doctor can determine if treatment is needed. You can also do a thyroid self-check by taking a careful look in the mirror, it may help you spot an enlarged thyroid that would need a doctor’s attention. 

In some cases, it can be obvious, like when a fan noticed "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Denise Richards’ enlarged thyroid after watching her in a reunion special, in which she later sought treatment for an enlarged thyroid, thanking the fan that recognized her condition. Or when a viewer watching "Flip or Flop" noticed HGTV star Tarek El Moussa appeared to have a lump in his neck, in which he was later diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer.

There are several illnesses and diseases related to your thyroid such as hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s disease, goiter and thyroid cancer.  

Hyperthyroidism is where your thyroid works more actively than it should. Symptoms include unexpected weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, and irritability, though older patients often experience no symptoms. Although hyperthyroidism is associated with more energy, the body breaks down after a while, leading the person to feel more tired. 

Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. Major symptoms include fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, and unexplained weight gain. Hypothyroidism can be managed with medication but if left untreated, it can lead to complications including heart problems, nerve injury, infertility and in some cases death. 

Grave’s disease, or Basedow's disease, is an autoimmune condition that causes your thyroid to become hyperactive, working harder than it needs to. Symptoms can include hand tremor, anxiety, heat sensitivity, weight loss, puffy eyes and enlarged thyroid. Treatment can include medication or removal of your thyroid. 

Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your thyroid. Symptoms include fatigue, pale puffy face, constipation and unexplained weight gain. Hashimoto's disease typically progresses slowly over years and causes chronic thyroid damage, leading to a drop in thyroid hormone levels in your blood.

One of the health conditions that can occur if Hashimoto’s is left untreated is a goiter, which results from hypothyroidism. A goiter is an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland. Although goiters are usually painless, a large goiter can cause a cough and make it difficult for you to swallow or breathe. The most common cause of goiters worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet. In the United States, where the use of iodized salt is common, a goiter is more often due to the over, or underproduction of thyroid hormones or to nodules in the gland itself.

Thyroid Cancer

The American Cancer Society reported that until recently, thyroid cancer was the “most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S., largely due to increased detection.” The death rate for thyroid cancer increased slightly from 2009 to 2019 but appears to have stabilized in recent years.

Risk factors for thyroid cancer depend on the type of cancer

  • Papillary thyroid cancer risk factors include radiation exposure, inherited conditions, family history and gender. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, “It’s unclear why, but papillary thyroid cancer occurs about three times more often in women than in men. When it does happen in men, it usually grows and spreads more quickly.”
  • Follicular thyroid cancer is typically more aggressive than papillary thyroid cancer and risk factors include a low-iodine diet and inherited conditions like Werner’s syndrome and Cowden’s syndrome.
  • Medullary Thyroid Cancer known at MTC, accounts for 1%– 2% of thyroid cancers in the United States. MTC is different from other types of thyroid cancers because it originates from parafollicular, or C cells. The risk factor for MTC is family history.

Left untreated, Thyroid Disease can lead to serious health problems. 

Please contact your doctor to discuss your risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options and for more information, visit the American Thyroid Association.

If you are diagnosed with a serious, life-changing illness, and desire a medical second opinion from a leading expert, MORE Health can help. MORE Health's expert medical second opinion benefit is offered as an employee benefit or on an individual case basis. For more information, contact us.

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