Thyroid Cancer

My thyroid cancer story starts like many other survivors, purely by accident!

I live with an autoimmune, neuromuscular disease called Myasthenia Gravis (MG). It's a disease where the signals sent from your nerves to your muscles is interrupted by an antibody. It produces severe muscle fatigue and weakness. Many people who have MG also have an enlarged Thymus. As part of my MG treatment I was scheduled for a CT Scan. My thymus was normal, but my CT scan revealed some other findings, among them was a possible thyroid nodule. Thyroid nodules, as it turns out are quite common!

My primary care physician has always been vigilant about checking my neck for thyroid masses and doing routine lab studies. He was never able to palpate any masses, and my lab results fell within normal limits. Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) is common in my family. I always figured somewhere along the way I too would join the crowd! 

An ultrasound of my neck was performed, three nodules were discovered. It showed possible cancer in one of the nodes. The next step was a fine needle aspiration biopsy. During this procedure a physician inserts a small needle into the nodules to obtain samples for diagnosis. The samples found Papillary Carcinoma in the smallest of the three nodules. Papillary Carcinoma is the most common and easily treated form.  A surgical consult was next. My positive nodule was very small, but because of my MG history weak breathing muscles and respiratory arrest are of great concern. I was going to have a total thyroidectomy. Another ultrasound was done, this time to "map out" the lymph nodes in my neck. This would determine if a would need a small incision near the base of the neck or a much larger incision to remove any affected nodes. Fortunately my lymph nodes didn't appear involved!

My surgery went off without a hitch, there were no respiratory issues. I stayed in the hospital overnight as a precaution and was released the following morning. My surgical pathology report would reveal two cancerous nodules. I began taking levothyroxine, to replace the thyroid hormone that I would no longer produce naturally. This medication must be taken for the rest of my life.

Treatment for thyroid cancer may include a lobectomy, where only a portion of the thyroid is removed and total thyroidectomy where all of the thyroid is removed. Radioactive Iodine Therapy may also be done to destroy any normal or cancerous cells that are left behind. This also helps to reduce the spread or recurrence of cancer in the future.

Thyroid nodules are common, but thyroid cancer itself is rare. Only 5% of all thyroid nodules are cancerous. Thyroid cancer also affects more women than men. Thyroid cancer has a very high treatment success rate, but it also very slow growing. It may be years before a recurrence is detected. Frequent monitoring is required, a patient will undergo a lifetime of lab tests and scans. 

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month
To learn more about Thyroid Cancer and how to "Check Your Neck" visit
ThyCa:The Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association or
The American Thyroid Association

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