Last week, Dancing with the Stars co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet, 41, revealed that she has thyroid cancer. While 41 seems particularly young for a cancer diagnosis, it turns out that thyroid disorders, and especially thyroid cancers, are on the rise in younger women.
The rapid rise in thyroid disorders and thyroid cancer has been well documented over the past several years. Surprisingly, especially with thyroid cancer, sufferers are most commonly women of childbearing age, much younger than the average cancer patient. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 45,000 new cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in 2010, with women comprising 75 percent of the group. Burke-CharvetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s admission underlines the diseaseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s propensity to strike an atypical demographic.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not yet sure why thyroid cancer affects more young women than men, but thyroid disorders themselves are more common among women,Ã¢â‚¬Â says endocrinologist Scott Isaacs, MD, clinical instructor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Thyroid cancer just moved up the list of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women, and now sits at fifth.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Family history, genetic factors and other thyroid disorders all increase your risk of cancer. Hypothyroidism, for instance, results in high levels of Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH). When TSH levels are high, the body prompts an underactive thyroid to create more thyroid hormone, which can also stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Knowing these risk factors, and keeping disorders in check, can be helpfulÃ¢â‚¬”but a larger culprit still looms.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The big reason for the increase in cases has to do with the accumulation of radiation in the environment,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dr. Isaacs says. If you live near a nuclear power plant, have been treated for past cancers or have had numerous imaging tests with high levels of radiation, like CT scans, your risk goes up.
The good news is that you can take steps to reduce your risk of thyroid cancer, and take steps to ensure that you catch it early.
Avoid Radiation Radiation is cumulative, so every bit counts. Ask your dentist for a lead shield to cover your neck when you get dental x-rays. If your GP orders a CT scan for any reason, you should always see if another imaging method, like MRI, can be used for evaluation instead, because CT scans pack about 500 times the radiation of x-rays.
React in Emergencies If a rare nuclear emergency happens near you, like last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reactor leak in Japan, listen to instructions from local officials about avoiding the damaging effects of radiation on the thyroid in particular, which will quickly seep up the iodine you breathe in or consume in the food and water supply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The government often keeps iodine tablets (potassium iodide) on hand for these events,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dr. Isaacs says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Flooding the body with non-radioactive iodine will prevent the gland from taking in the harmful radioactive iodine.Ã¢â‚¬Â One dose protects for about 24 hours, and is usually enough to halt the uptake of radiation. Never take more than instructed.
Know the Symptoms Beware the common symptoms of thyroid disordersÃ¢â‚¬”like fatigue, muscle weakness, weight gain, and cold sensitivityÃ¢â‚¬”and tell your doctor if you notice any.
Get Tested Have your GP check for nodules and test TSH levels every few years if you have risk factors for cancer.
Check Yourself Feel for any lumps in the front of the neck, just like you might with a breast self-exam. If you locate a lump, find that you have difficulty swallowing or experience unusual hoarseness in your voice, mention it to your doctor. He can check your neck and order an ultrasound.
Early detection of nodules is the best form of cancer prevention. But even if you do feel a lump, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t panic. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Only about five percent of nodules end up being cancer,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dr. Isaacs says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The biggest thing for people to understand is that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a death sentence. The vast majority of thyroid cancers are very treatable.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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