It’s a great time to educate yourself and do a self-exam
Thyroid cancer is more common than diabetes or heart disease. While it is one of the most survivable cancers, the number of reported cases has increased over recent years. In fact, an estimated 15 million Americans have undiagnosed thyroid problems. Too often, we don’t think about the thyroid. And this gland has some important jobs: managing the healthy functioning of organs including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin.
What (and where) is the thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly- or bowtie-shaped gland located in the lower front of your neck, above the collarbones, and below your voice box (larynx).
Why is my thyroid so important?
Think of it as a car engine that needs gas to operate the vehicle’s various parts. For your thyroid, this fuel is iodine, a chemical element found in food (like table salt, seafood, bread, and milk). The job of your thyroid is to extract the iodine from the food you eat and use it to make two kinds of thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Then, when your body needs one of those hormones, the thyroid releases just the right amount into the bloodstream so it can go to the cells in need. The hormones the thyroid releases manage the operation of nearly every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. When it is not functioning properly, the thyroid can either speed up the body’s systems (hyperthyroidism) or slow them down (hypothyroidism).
How do you get thyroid cancer?
The exact cause is not known, but research has shown that thyroid cancer is more common in women and that it is linked with many inherited conditions. Consider a thyroid evaluation if there is a history of the disease in your family, or if you have had any of the following radiation therapies: for tonsils, for an enlarged thymus, or for acne. If you don’t treat thyroid cancer, you could experience dangerously high levels of cholesterol, which lead to heart disease. Thyroid illness can also cause infertility and osteoporosis.
How common is thyroid cancer?
The American Cancer Society estimates that:
- there will be more than 56,000 new cases of thyroid cancer this year in the U.S.
- 75 percent of these will occur in women.
- About 3.5 percent of all these cases will die of the disease in 2017.
What can I do to protect myself?
You can check yourself for lumps in the area, and see your doctor for an evaluation.
Our body works in amazing ways. While we may not think about the functioning of our thyroid on a daily basis, it’s important to do all you can to detect disease as early as possible. It could improve your health and even save your life!
This article is part of the weekly blog of the Salter School. We offer several different professional training programs at our campuses in Malden and Fall River, MA. Reach out to us today for more information or to schedule a campus tour!