En español | Although the death rate from cancer in America is down 25 percent since 1991, there is one type of cancer rapidly increasing in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, the chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has tripled over the last three decades, making it the fastest-growing cancer.
The thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck, shaped like a butterfly. It produces hormones that enter the bloodstream and affect the metabolism, heart, brain, muscles and liver, and keep the body functioning properly and effectively.
The estimates for cases of thyroid cancer in America for 2017 have increased, and rates are higher in women than men, according to these figures published on cancer.org.
- In 2017, there will be an estimated 56,870 new cases of thyroid cancer — 42,470 in women and 14,400 in men.
- An estimated 2,010 deaths will result from thyroid cancer — 1,090 in women and 920 in men.
Women account for nearly three-quarters of thyroid cancer cases. The exact cause of most thyroid cancers is unknown. Research has concluded that better imaging technology has increased the number of thyroid cancer cases diagnosed.
"Much of this rise appears to be the result of the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules that might not otherwise have been found in the past," the American Cancer Society says.
What are the signs or symptoms related to thyroid cancer? The American Cancer Society lists the following on cancer.org:
- A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
- Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- A constant cough that is not due to a cold
Talk with your doctor immediately if you have any of the signs or symptoms associated with thyroid cancer. Noncancerous conditions or even other cancers can also cause many of the symptoms.
How can you protect yourself?
Experts say most people found to have thyroid cancer have no known risk factors, and so emphasize that most cases can not be prevented. Professionals suggest regular self-exams to catch thyroid changes in the earliest stages as one of the best means of protection.
Here are five steps to performing a self-exam from thyroidawareness.com:
- Hold a mirror in your hand, focusing on the lower front area of your neck, above the collarbones and below the voice box (larynx).
- While focusing on this area in the mirror, tip your head back.
- Take a drink of water and swallow.
- As you swallow, look at your neck. Check for any bulges or protrusions in this area when you swallow. Reminder: Don’t confuse the Adam’s apple with the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located farther down the neck, closer to the collarbone. You may want to repeat this process several times.
- If you see any bulges or protrusions in this area, see your physician. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or a thyroid nodule that should be checked to determine whether further evaluation is needed.
Health professionals estimate that 15 million Americans have undiagnosed thyroid problems. The good news is that the survival rate of thyroid cancer patients is higher than for most other cancers. Early detection of thyroid cancer can open up more treatment options. You can also ask your doctor to check your thyroid health with a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test, a blood test that can determine whether the gland is functioning normally.