Brooke Burke-Charvet, 41, is staying positive and strong as she comes to terms with a new diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Brooke isn’t the first in Hollywood to battle the disease. Rod Stewart and Roger Ebert also faced the illness. Brooke said in a video on her blog thyroid cancer is a “good cancer” and that hers is a “happily ever after” scenario.
The co-host of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” shared her news with fans as a follow-up to news she previously shared weeks earlier about nodules on her thyroid. Surgery to remove her thyroid has been scheduled.
Is there ever a “good cancer” to have? It seems so.
“I tell most of my patients the same thing that Brooke's doctor told her,” says Joel Turner, M.D., an endocrine surgeon at Great Baltimore Medical Center. “Of course you never want cancer, but if you have to have it, thyroid cancer is probably the only one you'd choose."
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just under your Adam’s apple. It’s responsible for producing hormones that do a variety of functions in the body including regulate blood pressure, body temperature, and weight.
All cancers are not created equal. Unlike breast, ovarian, pancreatic, lung, and other cancers that are often diagnosed at intermediate or advanced stages, Dr. Turner says, most of the time, patients like Brooke who are under 45 are diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer that is in Stage 1.
The early diagnosis cuts down the chances of the cancer spreading to the larynx, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body. It’s also why Dr. Turner says, in general, thyroid cancer doesn’t kill patients. “Patients like Brooke have a very good prognosis,” he says.
Another “good” aspect of thyroid cancer that isn’t always applicable with other cancers is the treatment and recovery process.
In her video announcement, Brooke explained she has scheduled a thyroidectomy, a surgery to remove her thyroid. “This means that I'm going to have a nice big scar right here across my neck,” she said. “And I don't get to just walk around and pretend like nothing happened or not follow up or not share it, because it's going to be pretty much dead center.”
Dr. Turner says in nearly every diagnosis of thyroid cancer, surgery to remove the thyroid is the standard first level of treatment, and the scar Brooke spoke about is also common. “Virtually everyone who has their thyroid removed has an incision low on neck, right above their collarbones. It’s 2½ to 3 inches, but it heals quite nicely in about a year,” says Dr. Turner.
“I tell my patients all risks to the surgery are less than one percent which is why a large majority of patients do well with the surgery, regardless of their age," says Dr. Turner. "Whether a patients are in their teens or their 80s, most make a quick, full recovery.” And that’s not always the case for patients recovering from invasive surgeries for other cancers such as ovarian, breast, lung, or prostate.
The follow-up treatment to surgery is radioactive iodine, which is generally administered in pill form. The surgery is performed to remove the gland and any nodules that doctors can see. The radioactive iodine is then prescribed to kill any lingering thyroid and nodule cells doctors can’t see that may linger post-surgery. There are typically no side effects associated with the iodine treatment, but nausea is a slight possibility. Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer isn’t as common as others, but it is on the rise in American women. A study conducted by the Head and Neck Service, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says thyroid cancer has increased by six percent in women over 45.
Doctors speculate the increase might be the product of women taking better care of themselves than in previous decades; they’re going for routine physical and screenings and, as a result, more nodules that may have gone undiagnosed are being discovered.
“The U.S. is very scan-based," says Dr. Turner. "It’s common for people to have ultrasounds and CAT scans, and during those scans cancerous nodules are being discovered.”
Brooke states in her video that her nodule was discovered during a routine physical. “We tend to find those nodules when we’re not actually looking for them,” adds Dr. Turner.
The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for thyroid cancer in the United States are for 2012:
Typically, there aren’t any symptoms or signs of early-stage thyroid cancer. That’s one reason patients generally report feeling good or fine which is why the diagnosis of thyroid cancer can come as a shock.
As thyroid cancer grows, patients may experience one or more of the following:
If you experience any these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
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