You know it's important to check your skin for unusual moles that could be melanoma and, if you're a woman, to check your breasts for lumps that could signal breast cancer. But did you know you should also see a doctor if you notice any unusual swelling in your neck?
That's a classic symptom of thyroid cancer, says Jonathon Russell, M.D., director of the Multi-Disciplinary Thyroid Tumor Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
About 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with thyroid cancer every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but the risk peaks for women when they're in their 40s or 50s, while most men are diagnosed in their 60s or 70s, according to the American Cancer Society. Women are three times more likely than men to develop thyroid cancer.
Until recently, thyroid cancer was the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S., largely due to better detection.
Many cases discovered accidentally
Many thyroid tumors today are discovered unexpectedly when a patient is being checked for another problem, says Douglas Ross, M.D., codirector of Thyroid Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital. A tumor may be spotted during an imaging test such as a chest or neck CT, a carotid Doppler study or a neck MRI. “The imaging has gotten so much better that we're picking up cancers decades earlier than we used to,” Ross says.
Thyroid cancer is mostly curable, with an overall five-year survival rate of about 98 percent, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
However, an individual patient's survival rate depends on what kind of thyroid cancer they have — some types are aggressive — and how early the cancer is detected, Russell says. That's why it's a good idea to be familiar with the possible symptoms of thyroid cancer, and to tell a doctor if you have any. Here are four of the most common.