Thyroid cancer risk has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Learn the basics—from early detection to treatment.

Most people don’t realize the importance of their thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in their necks responsible for regulating metabolism and energy. And even fewer know about thyroid cancer, or how it’s treated. Yet it’s the most common cancer of the endocrine system and is the most rapidly increasing cancer in men and women in the U.S. About 12 in 100,000 Americans will get it; in 2010, it was diagnosed in a record 44,670 people, according to the American Cancer Society. The Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center Thyroid Center offers specialized care to make treatment easier—and ease your mind.

Treatment 101

Most thyroid cancer is treated with surgery to remove the thyroid followed by radioactive iodine therapy. The Shady Grove Adventist Hospital Thyroid Center, under the direction of Vijay Varma, MD, offers a higher level of radioactive iodine therapy to its patients: I-131.

“I-131 goes to the thyroid gland, where it is absorbed by any thyroid tissue, gives off radiation and destroys the thyroid cancer cells and the thyroid tissue,” he explains. “The treatment process begins three weeks before I-131 therapy, with a low-iodine diet. This depletes the body of stable iodine and allows the thyroid tissue to more effectively absorb the radioactive source.”

The treatment is delivered in the hospital, in the form of one or more capsules, taken by mouth. Patients remain in the hospital for 48 hours. “There are relatively few side effects,” Dr. Varma says. “Most patients do not feel anything unusual and spend the time reading, browsing the Internet or watching TV.”

Read the Signs

January is Thyroid Awareness Month— the perfect time to learn about thyroid cancer. Although thyroid cancer can be difficult to detect in its early stages, as it grows, symptoms may include:

  • A small lump or nodule on the neck
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Pain in the throat or neck

Most nodules are benign, but early detection is key! Contact your physician if you have questions about signs of thyroid cancer.

Teaming Up

Thyroid cancer treatment at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center is a coordinated effort that involves Dr. Varma; the Nuclear Medicine Department; oncology nurses; Jan Papirmeister, cancer care navigator; Robin Brannon, the region’s only certified oncology registered dietitian; and Sarah Tinney, oncology social worker.

“Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center’s thyroid cancer program offers outstanding quality and an exceptional patient experience. The 48-hour, inpatient stay for the person undergoing treatment with I-131 is customized, coordinated, multidisciplinary care at its best,” says Debra Pollak, executive director of Adventist HealthCare’s cancer care services.