Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month

My mother has half a neck (missing the right sterno-cleito-mastoid muscle). She’s quite a stunning woman, tall, shapely, and she holds herself with a certain presence. With her grace and pride and sharp intelligence, she might almost be intimidating to an insecure person who first meets her, and it’s the rare person who notices this missing body part.

She has thyroid cancer to thank for the loss.

Some days I don’t feel we’ve come too far in cancer treatment—but I must hand it to the medical community. They have definitely made some progress in treating thyroid cancer–you don’t donate half your neck to the cause of thyroid cancer wellness any more.

My guess is that you weren’t worried. Thyroid cancer isn’t big on people’s radar—probably because it’s rare compared to some of the other ‘big name’ cancers.  In 2010 in the U.S., the American Thyroid Association estimated that around 45,000 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Compare that to 140,000 who received a diagnosis of colon cancer, and over 200,000 patients who were diagnosed with breast cancer.  Truly, it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses.

BUT. . .it is actually the fastest increasing cancer in both men and women. Everyday Health notes that it is also different from many adult cancers in that it is commonly diagnosed in younger people (although, I must interrupt here, their definition of ‘younger people’ should bring a smile; it’s coming:) almost 2 of 3 cases are found in people between the ages of 20 and (you ready for this?) 55. And although the initial statistics really look great, there is definitely cause for caution.

According to Cancer.net, five-year survival rate (the percentage of people who survive at least five years after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases) for all stages of thyroid cancer is about 98%. For cancer that has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 97%. However. .  the five-year survival rate for cancer that has spread outside the thyroid–to other body parts–that’s a much lower 54%.

So what should we really do for thyroid cancer, and for awareness of this disease that takes a backseat to more ‘dramatic’ cancers?

Well, it’s always touching when the government tries to help.

On June 12—really—in Harrisburg, PA—the Senate President Pro Tempore (it’s crucial to have a really important sounding name), one Joe Scarnati, a Republican—sponsored a resolution designating September 2012 as “Thyroid Cancer Month” in Pennsylvania.

Yes, it’s true that for years people had been working on thyroid awareness—and in that self-same month—but now we have a resolution, or at least Pennsylvanians do—adopted unanimously.

While it’s true that you could say, “too little, too late,” you could just as easily say, “the more the merrier,”

Now—there’s the bad news and the good news about treatment, depending on how you feel about body parts coming and going.  Really, once you’re diagnosed with thyroid cancer, something’s going to go. One of the more common treatments does indeed involve removing things–but, called a thyroidectomy, docs stick to removing the thyroid gland.  If you’ve potentially got some metastasis, or the doctor aims big, he may also remove lymph nodes in the neck, in order to check them for cancer cells.

Now, I don’t want anyone to be disappointed, but, bad as this may sound, no doctor today treats a young woman’s thyroid cancer by cutting out the major muscles.  If that’s what you’d always hoped for, I’d consider looking into underdeveloped countries for treatment.  My mother got what I assume was standard of care for the 1960s—although they sure took a whole lot of extra stuff.  Extreme caution, I guess.

Anyway, back to the month. Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month–which is actually observed world-wide–began at the initiation of ThyCa: (Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association) in 2000 as a week, in 2003 it grew to a whole month. And their page, “September Is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month Free Materials Available Year-Round,” is really where you want to be if you want to do something–or just learn something–in honor of Thyroid Cancer Awareness month.

From the Top 10 Things to Know About Thyroid Cancer (more than 2/3 of people with thyroid cancer are women) to the article New Thyroid Cancer Diagnoses Will Set Record High Total in 2013 to lists of support groups, the site has just about everything you need to raise your own awareness–and to equip yourself to help raise others’.

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