Caring for our elderly loved ones can be challenging even when they can clearly describe their symptoms and the illness is easily diagnosable and treatable. A disease like thyroid cancer, which sometimes presents few if any distinct or severe symptoms, can make things even more difficult. The good news is that once discovered, most forms of thyroid cancer are very curable. With September being Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, now is an opportune time to discuss the risk factors and symptoms that let us know when it’s time to call a doctor and talk about the possibility of thyroid cancer.
Who gets thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancers can affect just about anyone, but the American Cancer Society does identify a number of factors that may increase the risk:
Age: Most thyroid cancers affect people of broad spectrum of ages, although the risk does increase with age. Some forms of thyroid cancer, especially the extremely rare and aggressive anaplastic carcinoma, are found almost exclusively in elderly patients.
Gender: While the reasons are still unknown, females are significantly more prone to developing thyroid cancers than men.
Genetics: As with most cancers, a person with a family history of thyroid cancer is always at a slightly higher risk of developing the disease. One form however - medullary thyroid cancer – is especially linked to genetics and can be connected to inheriting an abnormal gene about 80% of the time.
Radiation: Many of us don’t need to worry about having received unhealthy doses of radiation, but this can be a factor for seniors. Modern x-ray technology delivers extremely low amounts of radiation and most links between thyroid cancer and common procedures like dental x-rays and mammograms have been debunked. However, seniors may be at increased risk if they were exposed to higher doses as children, as prior to the 1960s x-rays were used to treat various childhood ailments ranging from tonsillitis to acne. Higher-dosage radiation therapies such as that for Hodgkin’s lymphoma can also increase the likelihood of thyroid cancer.
When should I call the doctor?
If you are worried about thyroid cancer or any other medical condition for any reason, a call to your physician is never a bad idea. However, the Mayo Clinic identifies a few signs to look out for. They recommend making an appointment with your doctor if you or your loved ones have a lump that you can feel through the skin on your neck, voice changes or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, neck or throat pain, or swollen lymph nodes.
While we should always be vigilant and proactive when it comes to any cancer, it’s important to remember that thyroid cancers are among the most treatable and curable forms of cancer. Provided we detect the issue and seek medical advice promptly, the prognosis is very positive.
About Home Helpers
Home Helpers is the region’s premier provider of non-medical caregiving services for seniors, people coping with a lifelong illness or disability, and those recuperating from a recent surgery or hospitalization. We don’t just take care of our clients; we plan for them, using our comprehensive and customized Home Helpers Total Care Plan™. Home Helpers is proactive, not reactive, and offers a flexible, affordable continuum of care that changes as our clients’ needs change. We tailor our care plans to our clients’ unique needs, and tap our extensive network of referral resources relevant to every aspect of care. The professionals at Home Helpers are sensitive to all factors impacting a person’s ability to function safely and independently in their homes.