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Making Choices: Screening for Thyroid Disease

  • Posted: 08/01/2003

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About the Thyroid

What is the thyroid gland?

The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck, just above the top of the breastbone and overlying the windpipe. In most people it cannot be seen or felt. The gland normally takes up iodine from the diet and the blood, and makes thyroid hormone. The thyroid controls many body processes, including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, as well as childhood growth and development.

What is thyroid disease?

There are two main types of thyroid diseases: noncancerous thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.

Some thyroid diseases are caused by changes in the amount of thyroid hormones that enter the body from the thyroid gland. Doctors can screen for these with a simple blood test.

Noncancerous thyroid disease also includes lumps, or nodules, in the thyroid gland that are benign and not cancerous.

Thyroid cancer occurs when a lump, or nodule, in the thyroid gland is cancerous.

Check any symptoms of thyroid disease you think you have in the boxes below.

Symptoms of noncancerous thyroid disease:

Too little thyroid hormoneToo much thyroid hormone
Depression or feeling blue
Trouble concentrating
Tiredness
Dry skin and hair
Weight gain
Feeling cold all the time
Nervousness
Anxiety
Tremor (shaking)
Fast irregular pulse

Symptoms of thyroid cancer:

A lump in the neck, sometimes growing noticeably
Pain in the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
Persistent hoarseness

These symptoms may not be the result of a thyroid condition. They are also associated with other medical conditions. If you checked any symptoms, we suggest seeing a doctor.

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a slow-growing cancer that is highly treatable and usually curable. About 95 out of 100 people who are diagnosed with thyroid cancer survive the disease for at least five years.

How common is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is not common and accounts for less than 2 percent of cancers diagnosed in the United States. In the United States, about 2 in every 1,000 men and about 4 in every 1,000 women who are currently cancer-free and aged 50 years will eventually develop thyroid cancer in their remaining lifetime. This is shown in the boxes below. Each box contains 1,000 circles. Each circle stands for a person. The blue circles show the number of 50-year-old men and women who will eventually develop thyroid cancer. The black circles show the number of men and women who will not develop thyroid cancer.

Men
Women

How common are other cancers?

Of 1,000 women who are currently cancer-free and aged 50 years, about 120 will eventually develop breast cancer in their remaining lifetime. Of 1,000 men who are currently cancer-free and aged 50 years, about 170 will eventually develop prostate cancer in their remaining lifetime.

About 203,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States, while about 15,800 women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. About 189,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in the United States, while about 4,900 men are diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Breast and prostate cancer are both much more common than thyroid cancer.