Potsdam-based MDs emphasize importance of thyroid screening
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 11:32 am

POTSDAM -- Two St. Lawrence Health System physicians are emphasizing the importance of thyroid screenings.

Dr. Michael Chater, an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon, and endocrinologist Dr. Paul Tejera teamed up for what SLHS called “National Thyroid Awareness Month” to raise awareness about thyroid cancer, the most common endocrine cancer, resulting in a cancerous tumor or growth within the thyroid gland that can affect people of all ages and races.

Women have triple the risk of contracting the disease over men, the doctors say. The American Cancer Society estimates 65,450 new cases of thyroid cancer in the US by the end of 2015. The society also say some inherited conditions and family history have been linked to different types of thyroid cancer. About one out of three medullary thyroid carcinomas (one of the least common thyroid cancers) results from inheriting an abnormal gene. Exposure to radiation in childhood or having a family history of thyroid cancer are both risk factors for developing thyroid cancer in the future.

According to Chater and Tejera, the vast majority of thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous); however, some are aggressive and difficult to treat, making it even more important for medical providers to rule out or detect cancer while it’s in an early, treatable stage. A neck screening exam is non-invasive and takes just minutes to perform.

Many people with thyroid cancer don’t have any symptoms, according to SLHS. For others, symptoms range from a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty speaking, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and pain in the throat or neck.

“That’s why screening is important,” said Tejera.

A primary care practitioner can perform screening. There is a physical assessment to see if there is enlargement or abnormality of the gland. If a suspicious mass is detected, the provider may recommend a simple blood test, scope, ultrasound, or CT scan to confirm the diagnosis.

“Sometimes the body’s thyroid gland tissue continues to grow, often causing little to no complications. This is referred to as a simple thyroid goiter. However, when the growth starts affecting the thyroid’s ability to produce appropriate levels of hormones I get concerned,” said Tejera. “Working in conjunction with the pituitary gland, thyroid hormones T3 and free T4 help regulate cells across the body involved in metabolism, heart rate, muscle strength, and digestion. The earlier a mass is found, the more options we have to address it and work toward a normal endocrine state,” he said.

“A nodule in the thyroid area doesn’t automatically mean cancer; regardless, it’s important to thoroughly investigate the mass to ensure the best outcome,” said Chater. “A tumor’s proximity can directly influence a patient’s symptoms. Any excess growth close to the esophagus and vocal cords could lead to obstruction of breathing, difficulty swallowing, or speech impediments. If we can detect the tumor in its earlier stages, surgical removal can often spare structures that are nearby,” he said.

“If not detected early, the most advanced surgical treatments are required to obtain the best outcome,” said Chater. “Patients should be sure their surgeon offers minimally invasive techniques such as intraoperative nerve monitoring. They should also look for a multidisciplinary approach, not only through the combined expertise of a surgeon and endocrinologist, but also the supportive team of radiation oncology, speech therapy, and pain medicine. I’m part of such a program at CPH,” he said.

The physicians noted that all CPH providers invite their patients to ask questions and to take a preventive, proactive, collaborative approach to their care.

For more information on thyroid screening or services at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, people can visit www.cphospital.org, call Chater at (315) 274-9710, or Tejera at (315) 274-9740.

For more information regarding thyroid cancer, there is information at the American Thyroid Association web site at www.thyroid.org/cancer-of-the-thyroid/.