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Chief Justice Rehnquist's Death Focuses Attention on Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid Cancer Uncommon, But On the Rise

by Mary Shomon

September 3, 2005 -- The news that the Supreme Court's Chief Justice William Rehnquist has died of thyroid cancer on September 3, 2005 has increased awareness of this fairly uncommon cancer.

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland that lies at the front of the neck, beneath the voice box, and behind the "Adam's Apple." The thyroid's function is to produce hormone that helps the body utilize energy, and regulate metabolism. In rare cases, the thyroid becomes cancerous.

It's estimated that this year, there will be 25,690 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. Of these, about 19,190 will be in women and about 6,500 in men. About 1,490 people (860 women and 630 men) are expected to die of thyroid cancer in 2005. Thyroid cancer is actually one of the few cancers that are becoming more common in the past several years, with a growth rate of 3% per 100,000 people each year.

A healthy thyroid is around the size of a quarter, and cannot usually be felt through the skin. But an enlarged thyroid, and benign or cancerous lumps in the thyroid can sometimes be felt or seen externally.

"It's estimated that more than 13 million Americans have undiagnosed thyroid conditions," said thyroid patient advocate Mary Shomon, who has been publishing books and newsletters about thyroid disease and advocating on behalf of thyroid disease patients since 1997.

Millions of Americans have undiagnosed thyroid problems, including an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), nodules, goiter (enlarged thyroid), and thyroid cancer.

It's thought that Rehnquist had a particularly rare, fast-moving and almost always fatal form of thyroid cancer known as anaplastic cancer. Most thyroid cancer, however, is highly treatable and survivable.

Could you have thyroid cancer? To aid in early detection of thyroid enlargement or nodules, you can perform a simple self-exam of the thyroid, looking for lumps or enlargements in the neck that may point to thyroid conditions. To detect a thyroid abnormality, follow these steps:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror
  2. Stretch your neck back
  3. Swallow some water
  4. While swallowing, look for enlargement in your neck (below the Adam's Apple, above the collar bone area)
  5. Feel the area to confirm any enlargement or bump
  6. If you feel or see anything unusual, see an doctor for evaluation and further testing
Your physician should also perform a manual thyroid examination at every physical.

THYROID CANCER FACTS

In 2005, 25,690 new cases of thyroid cancer are expected in the U.S. -- 19,190 in women and 6,500 in men.

Currently, there are more than 200,000 thyroid cancer patients in the U.S.

About 1,490 people (860 women and 630 men) are expected to die of thyroid cancer in 2005.

About 1,460 people (840 women, 620 men) are expected to die of thyroid cancer in 2004.

Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that are becoming more common in the past several years, with a growth rate of 3% per 100,000 people each year.

Thyroid cancer often goes undetected because patients do not experience any symptoms.

If untreated, thyroid cancer can spread to other areas of the body.

10-15 million Americans have nodules that may be a sign of a thyroid disorder.

Men who have nodules are three times more likely to have thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer is more prevalent in people exposed to head/neck radiation for medical treatments, and in people exposed to radiation via the nuclear testing in the 40s and 50s, nuclear accidents, living or working near nuclear plants, or situations such as the Chernobyl disaster.

There are four types of thyroid cancer: Papillary, Follicular, Medullary, and Anaplastic.

Papillary, Follicular, and Medullary cancers are the most common types of thyroid cancer, and affects mostly women age 25 - 65. These cancers are almost always treatable and curable when detected early. Treatment involves surgery and radioactive iodine to remove and ablate any cancerous thyroid tissue. Long-term survival rate is high.

Anaplastic is a rare and serious thyroid cancer that usually causes a large mass, spreads quickly, and is more common in those over 65 and in men. Long-term survival is poor, and 80% of patients die within a year.

Thyroidectomy -- surgical removal of the thyroid -- followed by radioactive iodine, is the typical treatment for thyroid cancer.

MORE INFORMATION

For more information online, read: An Introduction to Thyroid Cancer: Overview of Thyoid Cancer Information -- http://www.thyroid-info.com/articles/cancerintro.htm

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Mary Shomon is a nationally-known thyroid patient advocate and best-selling author of numerous books on thyroid disease, including the New York Times best-seller The Thyroid Diet: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss, Living Well With Hypothyroidism: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You...That You Need to Know, the Thyroid Guide to Fertility, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Success, Living Well With Graves' Disease and Hyperthyroidism (coming Fall 2005)." She is editor of the sticking Out Our Necks Thyroid Newsletter, and the Thyroid Information website at www.thyroid-info.com.

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2005. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.