Thyroid Cancer On The Rise

MIAMI -- Suzie Battle makes the ice cream at her shop Azucar in Miami's Little Havana.

The new entrepreneur is also a thyroid cancer survivor.

"It was right here - it was a little nodule and I had no idea I had it," Battle said as she pointed to the base of her neck.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped spongy gland.

After Battle was diagnosed four years ago, she started hearing about others with the same cancer.

"I had a boss in my old job who also had it and then I had a friend who also had it," she said. "It seems odd that so many people are getting thyroid cancer these days."

Then her younger sister was diagnosed last month, but the most common type of thyroid cancer is not considered hereditary, says University of Miami Health System endocrinologist Dr. Brian Kim.

"These cases then make us wonder," Kim said. "I have certainly also met families where I've had three sisters who had thyroid cancer, and you always wonder in that kind of case could there be a gene that's involved?"

He points out that family history is a risk factor for thyroid cancer.

So is radiation exposure, as is being female.

It's three times more common in women than in men.

"We're actually finding it more, we're treating it more," he said. "Economically and for the patients involved it's a very big deal."

A woman's immune system and hormones may play a role.

Researchers at the thyroid labs at the UM Miller School of Medicine are studying the gland's role in metabolism.

While only 5 percent of thyroid nodules or lumps are cancerous and most people don't know they have them, there are some possible warning signs.

"If you feel a lump in your neck, if you have trouble swallowing, voice changes for no apparent reason, that would be a reason to talk to your doctor," Dr. Kim advises.

Battle's lump was detected by a nurse practitioner during a routine exam.

"She checked my neck and realized there was something different between last year and this year," Battle said. "She saved me."

The five-year survival rate for all thyroid cancer patients is 97 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

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