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November 22, 2011

The Girl's Guide to Preventing, Avoiding, Treating, and Even Beating Cancer

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THYROID CANCER: The Runaway Newcomer
The thyroid gland, perched in front of your windpipe, pumps out hormones governing mood, weight, and brain function. The incidence of thyroid cancer has skyrocketed, recently making it the fastest-growing cancer in young women; since 2000, rates jumped almost 36 percent in women 35 to 39. The increase might be due to higher detection rates and awareness, but X-rays, chemicals, and even hormones like estrogen and progesterone may play a role. Treatment may include having the gland removed and taking radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is usually curable, but left unchecked, it can spread to other organs and lymph nodes. "It has the reputation of being easy to treat, but it's still cancer," says Dr. Kenneth Burman, chief of endocrinology at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

-If you have trouble swallowing or feel a lump or swelling—tumors range from the size of a pebble to the size of a baseball—under your skin above the bony notch of your breastbone, tell your doctor.
-Get your gland examined annually; your doctor will have you swallow so she can feel it. Some experts even recommend having your gynecologist do the check. Since many young women have thyroid issues, OB/GYNs are used to dealing with enlarged nodules.
-Ask for a thyroid guard—not part of the typical lead vest—when getting X-rays, even at the dentist, to reduce radiation exposure.
-If you have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer, the only heritable type, ask for the RET gene blood test. (It's normally covered by insurance.) If you test positive, you'll need to have the gland removed.
-Pregnant? Get a monthly blood test to track thyroid hormone levels. Pregnancy hormones can stimulate tumor growth.

Doctors are excited about I-124, a new radioisotope in clinical trials; its sensitivity in imaging tumors allows them to detect the cancer earlier and to deliver a more precise dose of radiation.


Women 15 to 39 are five times likelier to get thyroid cancer than men of the same age. —BASED ON FIGURES FROM THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE

Almost 100%: The five-year survival rate for stage-one and -two papillary thyroid cancer, the most common kind. The stage-four rate is 51 percent. —AMERICAN JOINT COMMITTEE ON CANCER

"When doctors say side effects are tolerable ... they don't care if you're bald." —ROSE KUSHNER, BREAST CANCER ADVOCATE

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