YOUR HEALTH: Thyroid cancer rates are quickly climbing

DALLAS, Texas – New studies show that thyroid cancer has more than tripled over the last four decades.   It especially affects young and middle-aged women, causing about two thousand deaths a year.

For eight years, Mitzi McCabe, now 48, felt like she had the flu all the time.

She had no energy and had trouble breathing.   Doctors discovered she had low thyroid levels.  She was treated with steroids and gained 120 pounds over four years.

Then, a potentially deadly discovery.

"They removed both lobes of the thyroid plus two nodules off of my thyroid," McCabe remembered.  "One of them was malignant, had cancer in it, and then they removed two parathyroid glands."

"We're seeing thyroid cancer in younger patients than what we typically think of when we think about cancer," explained Dr. Anand Shivani, radiation oncologist with Baylor Scott and White Health. the largest not-for-profit health care system in Texas.

Researchers say that obesity and environmental exposure to radiation as a child, as well as flame retardants in household objects may be to blame for the increase.

SYMPTOMS: Some signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer may include a lump in the neck which can sometimes grow rapidly, swelling or pain in the front of the neck; sometimes going up to the ears, voice changes that do not go away, trouble swallowing or breathing, or a constant cough that is not related to any cold or allergy. It can be found after a person goes to the doctor because of symptoms, or it might be found during a routine physical or other exams. If there is a suggestion a patient may have thyroid cancer, a health care professional will want the persons complete medical history. If someone in the immediate family has had thyroid cancer or tumors it is important to tell your doctor, as you may be at a higher risk for the disease.

After surgery, Mitzi was treated with iodine-131, a radioactive isotope in pill form.   It kills any cancer cells left behind after surgery.

But she had to be isolated.

"I was radioactive for 5 days."

"She's done great," said Dr. Shivnani.   "Her treatment went perfectly."

"I feel ten times better than I did," admitted McCabe.   "I feel so much better than I did before."

Now, Mitzi is losing weight and happy to be active again.

Doctors report Mitzi is now cancer-free.   Researchers say more advanced screening and diagnosis is helping catch these cancers at an earlier stage.

TREATMENT: Most cancers related to the thyroid are highly curable.  The most common types, papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, are the most curable.  In younger patients, curability ratings are about 95 percent of those with these two most common types when treated appropriately.  Usually these common ones are treated with complete removal of the lobe of the thyroid which harbors the cancerous cells, in addition to the removal or most of all the other side.  More aggressive forms may require complete thyroid removal plus a dissection to remove the lymph nodes from the sides and front of the neck.  The least common form of thyroid cancer, anaplastic, has a poor prognosis. It tends to be found after it has spread, and in most cases may be incurable.  It is very uncommon to survive anaplastic thyroid cancer, because often the operation cannot remove the tumor in its entirety. Patients may require a tracheostomy (an operative procedure that creates a surgical airway in the cervical trachea) and treatment is much more aggressive than for other forms of this cancer.   (Source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/865068-overview)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.