Women speaking with nurse

Spot the early signs of Thyroid Cancer

We’ve all heard of the word Thyroid, most of us know its location, some of us might know it can be underactive or overactive. But for the vast majority of us that is kind of where our knowledge of the Thyroid ends.

For such an integral part of our body we thought it was only right that we try to share some of the knowledge we have gained about this small but mighty gland with you.

Lesson one - the Thyroid is a gland and we all have one. This gland is responsible for a hefty amount of important functions in our bodies! Who knew? The Thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck, just below your voice box (larynx) and in front of your windpipe (trachea). Its most important job is producing the hormones which help manage the body’s metabolism, development and growth. So, this little butterfly gland has a pretty serious role to play in our overall health.

When we read or hear the word cancer, a sense of dread tends to set in. However, you’ll be delighted to know that Thyroid cancer is an extremely treatable cancer, especially when caught at an early stage and catching it can be as simple as checking your neck in the mirror every morning.

The survival rates of thyroid cancer are really high, with almost 9 in 10 (87.4%) of people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in England surviving their disease for five years or more. The most common type of Thyroid cancer is Papillary thyroid cancer and this accounts for about 6 in 10 cases (60%). This type of thyroid cancer is typically more common in women and younger people and is usually slow-growing, highly treatable and rarely fatal.

Overall, in the UK, Thyroid cancer is the 20th most common cancer and is predominantly seen in more women than men. For women, thyroid cancer is the 17th most common cancer and for men, the 20th most common. 1 in 332 UK males and 1 in 170 UK females will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their lifetime. We know these stats may seem scary. However, knowledge is power and although the risk of thyroid cancer does tend to go up the older a person gets, it is typically found at a younger age than other cancers. This is why checking your neck at any stage in life is essential for prevention.

Okay, so we’ve covered what the Thyroid is and the many stats that come along with it. Now we’re going to touch on how Thyroid cancer is diagnosed and treated. But most importantly, how to be proactive in checking for it!

Generally, thyroid cancer is identified when someone discovers a lump in their neck, some people even find them by accident! Once this has been reviewed by a doctor, they will decide whether or not further tests need to go ahead. However, ultimately the only way to diagnose if a lump on the thyroid is definitely cancer, is through a biopsy. This is just where a doctor or nurse will take out a small section of the suspected cancer and study it under a microscope. After this, they normally do some further tests to determine if the cancer has spread to another area of the body. If this is the case, the treatment used is generally chemotherapy. If the cancer has not spread, the treatment used is often radiation therapy.

However, as we’ve mentioned throughout this blog piece, Thyroid cancer can be easy to detect and as a result, easy to treat.

We are encouraging people to ‘Check Your Neck’! Checking your neck is quick, easy and can be done in 5 simple steps -

1. Stand in front of a mirror

2. Extend your neck, slightly pointing your chin toward the ceiling.

3. Take a sip of water

4. Look for lumps as you swallow

5. Feel for enlargements or bumps (for males this is below your Adam’s apple)

Checking your neck is crucial in the fight against thyroid cancer as a lump in the throat is the most common symptom and telling your GP if you’ve found one can help you to get the treatment you need quickly. Other symptoms only typically arise when the cancer progresses and can include; neck and throat pain, difficulty swallowing, vocal changes/hoarseness and a cough. However, when lumps are discovered through checking your neck, the cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, 100% of people with thyroid cancer will survive their disease for one year or more, compared with more than 3 in 4 (77%) people when the disease is diagnosed at the latest stage.

One woman who knows about battling thyroid cancer is Louise Clark, who found herself faced with the C-Word at the young age of 26. She came across a lump in her neck and quickly booked a doctor's appointment to rule out that it could be anything serious. After multiple tests, doctor’s appointments and long waits during the Covid-19 pandemic, Louise’s worst fear was confirmed when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This was discovered after they had completed a biopsy on the two lumps they removed from Louise’s neck. Louise initially came across the lumps in her neck by chance, she had her hand resting on her chin and felt something in her neck. Thankfully, this led her to get an early diagnosis and thus her cancer was treatable.

Upon receiving her diagnosis, Louise’s safety net came into play when she remembered that she had taken out a Critical Insurance Illness policy with us at Caspian in June 2020. Like most people who look into financial protection, Louise took out her Critical Illness cover in the hope that she would never need to use it. But she wanted peace of mind and to be able to financially protect her family should she ever get critically ill. The lump sum that she received from her Critical Illness cover allowed Louise and her partner Elliott to tie the knot in a small but intimate service they never thought possible during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Louise’s case, an early diagnosis and being able to claim on her Critical Illness cover helped turn her nightmare around, allowing her to marry the love of her life sooner than expected and against all the odds, along with having a full recovery and getting back to doing what she loves.

The details provided in this blog post should not be taken as either medical or financial advice. Please speak to your GP if you are concerned about any symptoms you may be experiencing.