Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that plays a crucial role in keeping your metabolism and body functioning. So what happens when things go wrong?
Thyroid Cancer: Facts and fallacies
While thyroid cancer is a dread disease, there are many misconceptions about its cause, prevalence and prognosis.
For some reason, thyroid cancer is twice as common in women – and it seems to be on the increase, mainly due to environmental and lifestyle factors. It accounts for less than 1% of all cancers, with papillary carcinoma the most common form (70% of cases), explains Dr Eric Starke, Senior Medical Advisor at Sanlam. “It’s most often found in younger women and may also spread to the cervical lymph nodes. Early warning signs include swelling of the thyroid gland and a feeling of obstruction when breathing or swallowing. The preferred primary treatment is surgery, with a very high cure rate – a 10-year survival rate of over 90%.”
The weight of the matter
For many years, weight gain has been synonymous with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) – at least in many women’s minds – yet, says Dr Lorraine Becker, a GP in private practice in Johannesburg, this condition is very rarely the cause. “The thyroid may be guilty in perhaps 1-2% of cases,” she explains. “Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance – due to bad eating habits and inactivity – is the diagnosis at least 50% of the time. I regularly test every patient who complains about lethargy and difficulty in shedding excess kilos,” she adds, “and only very occasionally is the thyroid to blame. So if you’re battling to lose weight and the kilos are piling on, you need to take a good, hard, honest look at how you’re living.”
To read the full version of this story go to page 132 of the August 2012 issue of DESTINY