Since September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, it seems fitting that people in Olive Branch and elsewhere around the U.S. take a few moments to become more aware of the relationship between aging and thyroid cancer. Senior home care professionals generally have the opportunity at some point to provide care for elderly patients afflicted with thyroid cancer, so they know first-hand what the symptoms are like, and how they impact a person. Here are some things that every senior should know about aging and thyroid cancer, so you can be better prepared for the possibility, and react to it in the most positive way possible.
The thyroid gland
The thyroid gland itself is a rather small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck, and it’s responsible for several things, such as your metabolism, body temperature, and growth and development. Your thyroid produces hormones that help regulate these functions, so if it’s over-producing or under-producing, you can see what a big impact it could have on your life.
It is estimated that as many as 28 million Americans are suffering from thyroid disease at any one time, but since the symptoms are not always obvious, not all cases ever get reported. Very often, the symptoms associated with thyroid disease are assumed to be some other ailment, and the thyroid never gets suspected. When the thyroid produces too many hormones, the patient might feel anxiety, muscle weakness, arrhythmias, or osteoporosis. When too little hormone is produced, a patient might feel excessive fatigue, weight gain, constipation, or dizziness.
None of these symptoms immediately point to the thyroid, and that’s why it often gets overlooked as the culprit – unless your doctor discovers it during testing. Then too, sometimes the thyroid gland produces lumps, especially in older individuals, and these too usually cannot be detected without a neck exam. The majority of these lumps are benign, but there are also some that are cancerous and must be treated promptly.
What you need to know
The chances of developing lumps on your thyroid increase dramatically as you age, especially if you’re female. There’s no need to panic if you have lumps on your thyroid since only about 6% prove to be cancerous. However, it’s worth taking note that half of all women over the age of 50 have lumps on their thyroid, and that number increases to 90% when women reach the age of 70.
What this means is that most women will develop lumps on their thyroid by the time they reach the age of 70, so at the very least, they can expect to incur some of the symptoms associated with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. And the prudent thing to do would be to have your lumps checked to be sure they’re not malignant because that will carry much worse side effects than an overactive or underactive gland.
During the past 15 years, the number of patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer rose from 18,000 to 65,000, so there seems to be a much higher incidence of cancer developing in aging citizens. Experts attribute this to better diagnostic methods, not the fact that something is causing a higher incidence of thyroid cancer. At any rate, if detected early enough, thyroid cancer is very treatable, and the survival rate for patients is relatively high.
What can you do to maintain a healthy thyroid?
There are actually quite a few things you can do yourself to maintain a healthy thyroid gland, and avoid all the symptoms and ailments described above. First of all, it would be a mistake to dismiss those symptoms as signs of aging, and when you do observe some of them, you should report them to your doctor, so they can be checked out. If your doctor doesn’t routinely check your thyroid during a health exam, you need to request that it be done, so you can be sure nothing negative is developing.
You can also do your own examination at home to see if any lumps have developed. Stand before a mirror and have a glass of water ready for drinking. As you swallow the water, keep your eyes fixed on the area just below the Adam’s apple, and watch for lumps that move up and down with the swallowing movement. If you are already taking some kind of thyroid medication, don’t alter the routine – take the same medication, at the same time, and in the same way every day.
Finally, if you should discover any of the symptoms referenced above, or if you find lumps in your throat – don’t panic! Even if you do have cancer, remember that it’s one of the most treatable types of cancer there is. Surgeries on the thyroid are generally very successful at removing cancerous tumors, and you’ll be back to normal in no time.