In a recent interview, American Idol star Jackie Cole, better known as Jax, revealed she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer earlier this year. She stated that, “It was very unexpected… When you’re 20 years old, you have this Superman entitlement mentality, like you’re indestructible. And sometimes all it takes is God telling you it’s time to take a break for you to understand that you are most certainly not.”
Thankfully Jax discovered the cancer. She did so by noticing a small lump on her throat which turned out to be one of 18 tumors on her thyroid! Upon testing she was given the diagnosis.
Any cancer diagnosis is scary, but unfortunately, many people, physicians included, have downplayed the seriousness of thyroid cancer. It is too often described as the “good cancer.” We need to stop referring to it as such and maybe understanding the diagnosis a little more will lead to that.
There are different types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary – The most common type of thyroid cancer and account for about 80% of all cases.
- Follicular – The second most common type of thyroid cancer accounting for approximately 10% of all cases.
- Medullary – A less common type of cancer, but still accounting for approximately 5% of all cases and is caused by C cells in the thyroid.
- Anaplastic – A very rare cancer, only accounting for 1% of cases and causes the thyroid cells to become extremely deformed.
- Hurthle cell carcinoma – A rare variant of papillary cancer.
- Lymphoma and Sarcoma – Two rare forms of thyroid cancer.
Similar to Jax’s situation, thyroid cancer is typically found by accident or chance when either the individual or a physician feels a lump or nodule around the front of the neck where the thyroid is located. If the growth remains undiscovered through touch, you can begin to notice other symptoms like difficulty swallowing or a constant feeling of “a frog in your throat”/hoarseness.
Once a growth is discovered it is important to speak with your doctor to further test the lump. An ultrasound will inform you and your physician if there are multiple growths and whether the growth is filled with fluid or is solid. Additionally, the ultrasound can give a full picture of your thyroid health even determining if the gland is inflamed; however, in order to determine if a nodule is cancerous, you will need to undergo a procedure known as a fine needle aspiration. This procedure allows the physician to obtain a sample of the nodule’s cells.
If cancer is discovered, your physician will present you with a few options. Jax revealed that she opted for surgery to deal with her thyroid cancer, but surgery has a few different options as well:
- Lobectomy – Because the gland has two lobes your physician may opt to only remove the affected lobe.
- Thyroidectomy – Complete thyroid gland removal
- Lymph node resection – Lymph nodes near the gland may also become affected and would be removed.
- Open biopsy – If the fine need aspiration was inconclusive, a physician may opt to perform surgery to remove the nodule and make the diagnosis.
Once a partial or full removal has been performed the patient will require thyroid hormone replacement therapy because the body is no longer capable of making thyroid hormones or meeting the body’s needs.
Another option that is given to thyroid cancer fighters is radioactive iodine. Because the thyroid needs iodine to function properly, radioactive iodine can be administered and is taken up by the thyroid subsequently destroying the gland or any remnants left after surgery. Other options include radiation and chemotherapy.
Prognosis for thyroid cancer patients will vary depending on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed before treatment.
As for Jax’s recovery and prognosis she has spent her summer at home recovering from surgery, but is still planning to be a part of the 2016 TCS NYC Marathon later this year to support an organization that supports youth and families impacted by terrorism or traumatic loss.
Thyroid cancer is not the “good cancer.” It is a serious condition that requires ongoing treatment and support from physicians as well as family and friends.