The thyroid gland is one of those smaller but important organs that regulate all sorts of processes in the body. Residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere may not even think about their thyroid until something goes wrong with it, which may happen during palliative care.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice has worked with a variety of clients who have been dealing with thyroid glands that aren’t always working quite properly, and in some cases, the organ may need to be removed.
Although this is drastic, it may be required for a variety of conditions, including some types of cancer. Luckily, there are a variety of medications available that can help simulate some of the thyroid’s processes to keep everything performing well.
The Mayo Clinic said that thyroid cancer isn’t that common, but it is increasing. The reason for this is uncertain – it might simply mean that better technology is making it easier to detect more cancers, especially when they’re smaller in size.
The good news is that it’s one of the more treatable types of cancer, with good survival rates. There are several different types of thyroid cancer, and some grow quite slowly while others grow much faster. EndocrineWeb said about 44,000 people in the U.S. have some form of thyroid cancer annually, and it has a 98 percent five-year survival rate if treated.
Some thyroid cancers can have noticeable effects as they grow, including problems swallowing, swelling around the neck area, or even changes in one’s voice such as a deeper, more hoarse. In some cases, no visible symptoms can be seen, especially early.
Other possible symptoms can include swollen lymph nodes and general pain in the throat and neck. Sometimes, even if someone doesn’t notice anything such as pain or swelling, they may still report unusual physical sensations, such as feeling strange when they wear a shirt.
Sometimes, a health care provider may not notice something is wrong, but a dentist might.
The longer someone puts off visiting a provider or seeking treatment, the more damage could be sustained such as permanent voice changes, voice loss, or permanent problems swallowing.
Thyroid gland overview
Before we look at how the thyroid gland affects people’s lives, it helps to learn more about it and its role in the body.
The thyroid gland can be found right at the bottom of the neck, right below the Adams Apple in men. Some people say the shape is similar to a small butterfly.
When working properly, the thyroid gland regulates many processes throughout the body, including weight, body temperature, and general heart rate. When not working properly, problems can show up in different parts of the body as these processes are disrupted.
That’s why, if the gland has to be removed, various medications are needed to make sure the processes continue throughout the body. This is called Thyroid Hormone Replacement Therapy where certain medicines need to be taken for the rest of your life.
Likewise, if someone is experiencing unusual symptoms throughout their body, one of the first things providers test for is possible thyroid damage.
Thyroid and seniors
Any age can potentially be diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but It does show up more often after age 30 and is more common in men. The largest age range of people being diagnosed with this is between ages 50 and 60.
The two main types are follicular thyroid cancer and papillary thyroid cancer, which is aggressive but is treated easily. Some forms spread into the rest of the body, such as the lymph nodes.
In some cases, cancers will show up as nodules, which are small pieces of tissue. These can move into the vocal cords.
One study showed that the number of nodules grows with age. About 50 percent of those over age 65 have at least one thyroid nodule. Interestingly the more nodules are found, the less risk someone has of having a more aggressive and malignant form.
Seniors with certain risk factors are asked to be on their guard for possible aggressive forms of thyroid cancer, such as a family history of it, an iodine deficiency, obesity, or a history of a goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid.
Part of the challenge is that, although it is treatable, the treatment can often be rough on the body. This means that the cancer is often more aggressive and dangerous in seniors, but common treatment methods like radioactive iodine therapy, external beam radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery can be difficult to bear, especially if someone is already in poor health. It can include temporary feelings like painful swallowing.
In some cases, especially if a less aggressive nodule is found, a provider may simply say “let’s keep on watching this until something changes.”
Some surgical methods may remove the entire gland while others may cut out the damaged portions of it. A provider also might want to see a patient to see how everything is faring and if there’s any sign of the cancer coming back.
For those seeking more information or even those who want to help people with thyroid issues in their community, there’s a good opportunity in September – or any time of the year. Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month celebrations and observances have taken place around the country since 2000.