Have you ever experienced that fluttering in your chest when you’re nervous? That’s your thyroid glands saying “hello.”
“Our thyroid glands are like our bodies’ thermostat. They regulate everything from our heart rate to our temperature,” says James Bredenkamp, MD, a surgical otolaryngologist at Mission Hospital and Head and Neck Associates of Orange County. Thyroid glands are responsible for releasing hormones that control our bodies metabolism and the way in which the body converts various nutrients into energy. They are also a key contributor to helping our bodies develop, grow and reproduce.
Our thyroid glands produce enzymes that not only break things down into energy, but also, build things up such as bone and muscle. Thyroid hormones are a key part of our bodies’ ability to function. They influence every one of our organ systems, telling them how fast or slow to work. That’s why thyroid problems can often lead to other ailments such as mood disorders and obesity.
Thyroid cancer usually presents itself as small or enlarged nodules that can be felt beneath the skin near the throat. However, this alone does not mean cancer. Although as much as 75 percent of people will have thyroid nodules at some point during their lives, fewer than one percent of those will actually be cancerous. “Many people have enlarged nodules, often for years, that are benign,” says Dr. Bredenkamp. “They should definitely be checked out, but doesn’t always mean cancer,” he emphasizes. Other symptoms may include a hoarseness of the voice, neck pain and/or enlarged lymph nodes.
“Thyroid cancer is on the rise in the United States. Roughly 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer are expected each year,” adds Dr. Bredenkamp. “It occurs mostly in young to middle-age women, but is usually fatal only in the elderly; around 80 percent of the patients we see at Mission Hospital are women, but children can get it too. The good news is that most thyroid cancers are highly survivable if diagnosed and treated early, and most patients can go on to lead normal, healthy lives after treatment.”
“After diagnosing a thyroid condition with ultrasound, in most instances we will surgically remove the troublesome nodule alone and test it for cancer cells, says Dr. Bredenkamp. “If necessary, we may remove the thyroid gland completely. Thyroid surgery is straightforward and safe, and can often be performed with minimally invasive techniques that leave minimal to no scar. The surgery usually only takes between one and three hours to complete, with a quick recovery time of around 24 hours. Follow-up may be needed to keep the cancer from returning or to treat it if it has spread.”
“Post-surgery, there is usually some soreness in the throat due to the insertions of the breathing tube during the operation, but this tends to go away fairly quickly,” Dr. Bredenkamp continues. “Where the entire thyroid gland has been removed, patients will need to receive thyroid hormone replacement therapy to regulate function for the rest of their life.”
Dr. Bredenkamp adds, “Between Mission Hospital and the surgery center at Head and Neck Associates, we perform around 400 thyroid procedures each year. That’s more than any other hospital or medical group in the region. That is an accomplishment that attests to our commitment to patient-centered care, not only by providing the standard of clinical care to every patient who comes to us, but also by offering the best aftercare possible to help them stay well after treatment and get back to their daily activities.”
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.