Dr. Mehmet Oz and many other media outlets have made headlines about the fact that thyroid cancer is now the fastest growing cancer in the United States. And according to Dr. Oz, three out of four of the new diagnoses are women. The New York Times says the number of new cases among women nearly doubled from 2000 to 2008.
The soaring rate of thyroid cancer is not just an American problem. According to a review article published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology1, the uptick in the rate of thyroid cancer has been noted worldwide.
Should you be alarmed? Yes, somewhat — but maybe not as much as you think. Here’s what our research team found…
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Frankly, this alarming trend has doctors a bit puzzled. NCI statistics reveal that in the years between 1997 and 2006, the U.S. incidence of thyroid cancer increased by more than 6 percent each year, adding up to near-double over that period.
But don’t panic. There may be less to it than meets the eye. As with many other types of cancer, early detection methods have vastly improved, AND doctors use them more aggressively than ever before.
So this accounts for a large part of the new trend: The cancers were always there, and now they’re finding them thanks to new technology. Dr. Otis Brawley, former chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, has suggested that most of the thyroid cancers now being diagnosed would never have become a health threat.
“Our technology has gotten so good that we are finding cancers today that even 15 years ago would not have been diagnosed,” according to Dr. Brawley. “We’re finding and treating cancers that would never have killed anyone.”
I respect Dr. Brawley because he’s one of the few mainstream doctors who are openly critical of the way cancer medicine is practiced in the United States today. See Issue #212 for more about his brave challenge.
I think he’s right about over-diagnosis. A study published in the Journal of The American Medical Association found that 87 percent of the “increase” in the number of new thyroid cancers was due to diagnoses of small papillary thyroid cancers, many of which would never have caused any problem. (JAMA, May 10, 2006; issue 295)
Having said this, I don’t totally discount the sharp increase in thyroid cancer. Some of it is probably due to over-exposure to X-rays. When it comes to radiation causing thyroid cancer, dental X-rays and mammograms are the prime suspects. And the latter would account for why most of the “epidemic” is among women. I wrote about X-rays as a cause of cancer just last week, in Issue #305. It’s a serious national problem.
Fortunately, the survival rate for thyroid cancer is quite high. I don’t take ANY cancer lightly, but this is one you can probably handle if you have the bad luck to get it.
Ok, remind me what my thyroid does…
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck near your collarbone. It’s one of your hormone-producing endocrine glands. Thyroid hormones control a variety of important processes, such as:
- How fast you burn calories
- How fast your heart beats
- How your body experiences temperature changes
- How much calcium you have in your blood
When your thyroid is a normal size, you can’t feel it. But if your thyroid swells, this produces what’s called a goiter. These may be harmless—but they can also be a sign of iodine deficiency or other inflammation problems.
It’s possible that both goiter and thyroid cancer are on the rise because consumption of iodine has fallen. Low iodine levels are also implicated in breast cancer.
It used to be that public health officials were concerned about goiter. To protect the public from thyroid problems, many brands of bread were enriched with iodine and, of course, most table salt was iodized. That’s no longer the case. The average American is now iodine-deficient. (See Issue #9 for more about this subject.)
To make sure your iodine levels are healthy, the simplest option is probably to take a kelp supplement, readily available in health food stores. I use the Nature’s Way brand, but there are many others.
If you have a sluggish thyroid, the condition is called hypothyroidism. You may experience unexpected weight gain… feel constant fatigue… and have difficulty dealing with cold temperatures…
A hyperactive thyroid produces more hormones than your body needs—a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Excess thyroid hormone can cause weight loss, a rapid heart rate, and make you overly sensitive to heat.
Besides iodine deficiency, the two biggest risk factors for thyroid cancer are:
- Large doses of radiation therapy—having more than five x-rays each year (even dental x-rays) increases your risk
- Genetics—having parents or siblings with thyroid cancer puts you at greater risk
As I said earlier, papillary thyroid cancer accounts for about 80 percent of all cases. Patients usually are diagnosed in their mid-40s. And women get this cancer about three times more often than men.
So you might be wondering…
How to find this silent, stealthy cancer
By some estimates, as many as 59 million Americans have undiagnosed thyroid problems.
Doctors sometimes find them during routine physical exams. Or you may notice a growth in your neck area when looking in the mirror.
Other signs that you may have thyroid problems include:
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Lingering cough unrelated to a cold
- Pain or swelling in the neck
Undiagnosed thyroid problems can put you at risk for a number of health problems including anxiety and depression, hair loss, heart disease, infertility, sexual dysfunction and more.
The ideal would be to catch any potential problems before they damage your overall health.
Your doctor may use a variety of tests to diagnose thyroid cancer, including:
- Blood tests—blood samples are checked for abnormal levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Your pituitary gland makes TSH to stimulate the release of thyroid hormone and control how fast thyroid cells grow. Excess TSH may be a sign of a diseased thyroid.
- Laryngoscopy—your doctor checks your larynx with a mirror or laryngoscope to see if the vocal cords are moving normally or if they are inhibited by a thyroid tumor.
- Surgical biopsy—involves removing the thyroid nodule or one lobe of the thyroid so that a pathologist can view cells and tissues under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
- Ultrasound exam—this procedure can show the size of a thyroid tumor and whether it is solid or filled with fluid. Doctors can also use an ultrasound test to perform a fine-needle aspiration biopsy.
If you receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis, you’ll most likely hear that your treatment options involve chemotherapy, radiation and possibly surgery — the familiar “cut, burn and poison.” As you know if you read this newsletter, I strongly prefer natural and alternative methods of treating cancer. Particularly for slow-growing and most-likely-harmless papillary thyroid cancer, I would try alternatives first.
The treatment a conventional doctor recommends will depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer.
Doctors may opt to remove all of the gland or just a portion with surgery. If you have the entire gland removed, you have less chance of any recurring cancers.
But in either case—you’ll have to take hormone medications for life to supply the missing hormone your thyroid would normally produce.
If doctors recommend radioactive iodine treatments, you may experience nausea, pain and an altered sense of taste or smell.
If you’re wondering about natural treatments to help with thyroid problems, I found an interesting article on this subject. Natural medicine practitioner Shasta Tierra says there are herbal, lifestyle, and dietary choices that can help your whole body, including your thyroid.
I don’t wholeheartedly endorse her approach because I have no personal experience with it, but it’s a good example of how natural practitioner might look at the problem (http://thyroid.about.com/cs/expertinterviews/a/shasta.htm).
Ms. Tierra says that because the liver and kidneys play a large role in converting thyroid hormones, herbs that help cleanse these organs can be helpful.
She recommends herbs such as guggul, which is made from a tree sap native to India, and triphala as a natural laxative. She also recommended eating seaweeds such as kelp, dulce and nori, which contain natural iodine that can support a healthy thyroid. This is also true of saltwater fish, shellfish and even soy sauce.
As always, I have confidence in the alternative cancer approaches we’ve checked out and published in our Special Reports such as Outsmart Your Cancer, How to Cure Almost Any Cancer at Home for $5.15 a Day, and The 31-Day Home Cancer Cure. These are all available on our website at www.cancerdefeated.com.
These preventive measures could go a long way toward reducing your risks of being a victim of this stealthy cancer.
By the way, mainstream doctors are always delighted to jump in and treat cancer aggressively. Not so with milder thyroid problems. If you have the fatigue, cold body temperatures and depression associated with common low thyroid function, I wish you luck in getting any help.
Generally a mainstream doctor won’t diagnose low thyroid function because their tests set the bar so low for thyroid hormones, if you’re still breathing your thyroid function is “normal” as far as they’re concerned.
That’s a shame because tens of thousands of cases of chronic fatigue and depression in this country are probably associated with low thyroid function. If you suffer from these problems and have had no luck finding help, I recommend consulting a naturopathic doctor.
Lee Euler, Publisher