According to recent estimates, approximately 62,980 people in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014, a nearly 5% increase from 2013. The incidence is rapidly increasing among all age groups, and thyroid cancer is especially common in women, who represent three of every four people diagnosed with the disease. September is recognized internationally as Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, and ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association sponsors this observance to raise awareness. ThyCa (www.thyca.org) provides free handbooks, education, support services, events, and awareness materials to patients, professionals, and the public by mail and by download.
Not a “Good Cancer”
“A common misconception about thyroid cancer is that it’s often called a ‘good cancer’ because the prognosis for most patients is excellent,” says Gary Bloom. “This undermines the seriousness of the disease. When clinicians diagnose thyroid cancer, it’s an opportunity to deliver messages in a way that patients understand the gravity of their situation. While most patients do well, there is still a lifelong risk for recurrence. These patients all need to be monitored consistently for their thyroid health.”
Early detection of thyroid cancer is critical because the disease is usually treatable when caught early. However, some thyroid cancers are more aggressive and difficult to treat, further illustrating the importance of early detection. Physicians can perform a simple neck check that can be completed in seconds, and this brief exam can help improve outcomes. “Physicians can encourage patients to be regularly checked for thyroid nodules,” Bloom says. “When a diagnosis is made, physicians can advise bringing a friend, family member, or caregiver to help patients understand the diagnosis and listen to the physician for guidance on what to do next.”
ThyCa provides a wealth of medically reviewed educational materials that physicians can receive for free, and Bloom recommends that clinicians use these resources to aid patients in their journey. “These materials help patients and their caregivers learn about thyroid cancer and what to expect,” he says. “Physicians can also emphasize that thyroid cancer requires management similar to that of other chronic diseases. This support may help engage patients in their care, take their thyroid hormone replacement as prescribed, and maintain constructive communications with their physicians.”
Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, sponsored by ThyCa, urges everyone—including physicians—to learn about thyroid cancer and increase awareness about getting neck checks regularly during visits with doctors. “Taking a proactive approach and delivering messages appropriately to patients is helpful,” says Bloom. “It empowers patients to recognize the importance of early detection and treatment as well as the need for lifelong monitoring, support, and education.”