A lump in the throat--that's how a thyroid nodule starts. But, it can lead to a long list of complications including weight gain, weight loss, moodiness, anxiety and fertility problems.
Two weeks ago, our own Carrie Cline underwent surgery to have a sizable thyroid nodule removed from her throat. In this cover story, she takes us inside the often misdiagnosed world of thyroid disease and shows how it can prevent you from feeling and living well.
About two weeks ago, I had a nodule a little smaller than a golf ball in my neck. I had surgery to remove it and thankfully, it was cancer-free. But, these types of nodules are far more common than people think and can cause a lot of problems.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate every aspect of your metabolism from your heart rate to how quickly you burn calories.
The most common thyroid dysfunction--which can occur with or without nodules--is an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism. Symptoms include weight gain, moodiness, fatigue, hair loss, and fertility or menstrual problems which are all often misdiagnosed as stress, depression or "female problems".
“When you look at majority of population, many walking around with nodules” said Dr. Arturo Roa, an ear, nose and throat doctor/surgeon for Liberty Circle Ear, Nose and Throat.
One in every twelve young women and one in every 40 young men has a nodule. For those over 50, half of the population has some type of nodule. Most of them, like mine, are cancer-free. However, thyroid cancer is on a rapid rise.
“It's not as popular as lung or breast cancer, but it's the most rapidly increasing in its occurrence so we're concerned about that,” said Dr. Bruce Chertow, an endocrinologist at Marshall University Medical Center.
Dr. Chertow is conducting a study of thyroid cancer in West Virginia and noticing some alarming risk factors.
“One area of concern, pollution by PCB's or dioxin in water and underground,” said Dr. Chertow.
Dr. Chertow says those are often released into the environment as waste from industry.
“I tend to tell patients if you increase your collar size, you should be suspicious there's a change. You can also run your fingers over your neck and detect nodules,” said Dr. Roa
Dr. Roa also says if you suspect a problem, see your doctor and ask for a thyroid ultrasound scan. It's a quick and painless procedure that involves a rubbing a device over the neck for a highly sensitive reading of any problem areas. My scan detected a nodule measuring 4.6cm. Doctors worry about anything larger than 3cm.
Even though a biopsy showed my nodule was cancer-free. We still decided it was best to remove it before it developed cancer.
A decision that proved golden!
“This is challenging enough because it's a fairly prominent goiter--so it's a good time she came in because had she waited, would have been much more difficult to treat,” said Dr. Roa.
There is so much more to thyroid disease. If you suspect thyroid problems, go to your doctor and ask for a blood test that specifically checks your thyroid hormone levels. However, if you suspect a nodule, the blood tests don't always catch them. In my case, my blood tests were perfectly normal--it wasn't until nearly two years later after I pressed for the thyroid scan that my nodule was finally detected. So, be your own health advocate.
Click the link above to view Carrie's entire Cover Story on thyroid problems.