September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month

What is a thyroid gland?

A thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the front of the neck. It makes hormones that go through the bloodstream that help regulate metabolism.

What is a goiter?

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid. These can happen as a result of autoimmune thyroid problems, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves Disease, multiple nodules (multinodular goiter), cancer, infections, and even iodine deficiency. The most common cause of goiters in other parts of the world is iodine deficiency. The thyroid cannot make enough thyroid hormone if it does not have enough iodine. The brain will detect low amounts of thyroid hormone and will increase a manager hormone called TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, and this will stimulate the thyroid to make thyroid hormone and increase its size.

How does one obtain iodine in their diet?

Iodine is found in the soil and sea. In the United States, most of the iodine comes from iodized salt. Other sources include dairy, meat, eggs, saltwater fish, seaweed, shellfish, soy milk, and vitamins that contain iodine. Sea salt does not contain iodine unless it has been iodized. Iodine deficiency can result in goiters, hypothyroidism, and serious problems during pregnancy. The recommended daily amount of iodine is 150 ug a day, and more if pregnant or breastfeeding. A teaspoon of iodized salt has 400 ug. Not all multivitamins contain iodine.

What is a thyroid nodule?

A thyroid nodule is a collection of cells that forms a mass that is not supposed to be in the thyroid. Nodules can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Most nodules are benign. They typically feel like a knot in the neck. About 10%15% of patients with thyroid nodules found by a physical exam will have cancerous nodules. Nodules can cause problems such as difficulty swallowing, choking, dizziness with head turning, pain or ringing in the ears, and difficulty breathing. Only about 60% of nodules can be felt during an exam. Many nodules are found incidentally on other imaging done for other reasons. A nodule may need to be biopsied by fine needle aspiration to help assess whether there is cancer in the thyroid or not.

How treatable is thyroid cancer?

There are four major types of thyroid cancer. When found early, thyroid cancer is usually treatable. There are some thyroid cancers that are very aggressive and difficult to treat. Thyroid cancers affect people of all ages and both men and women. Family history of thyroid cancers, radiation exposure, and autoimmune thyroid disease (such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves disease) increase the possibility that one might have thyroid cancer. After a thyroid cancer is suspected, a surgeon will remove half or the entire thyroid gland, and sometimes lymph nodes. Some cancers require radiation therapy and even chemotherapy. A multidisciplinary team helps treat thyroid cancer.

Are there supplements that help prevent thyroid nodules, thyroid problems, and thyroid cancer?

Some herbal supplements can damage the thyroid. One should discuss taking vitamins and supplements with a medical doctor before taking these for any reason.

Dr. Malini Gupta is an endocrinologist and Director of G2Endo. She is a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Thyroid Association. She has an interest in thyroid, parathyroid, and pituitary disease, and is certified to do ultrasounds and fine needle aspirations at her clinic. She speaks on thyroid cancer treatment nationally. More information about her can be found at G2Endo.com.

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