Brooke Burke

Getty

Dancing-with-the-Stars co-host Brooke Burke-Charvet recently underwent surgery for thyroid cancer, so we were happy to hear this week that the procedure was a success.

Although no one wants a diagnosis of cancer, the good news is that thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable types, says John Yim, MD, professor of surgery at City of Hope National Medical Center. More and more people around the world are being diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, although no one is sure why.

But the five-year-survival rate for early papillary cancer, the most common type of thyroid cancer, is about 100%, according to the American Cancer Society. A person with cancer who lives for five years without a recurrence of their condition is usually considered cured.

Here are some facts you should know about thyroid cancer:

1. Many thyroid cancers are found by accident. For instance, they might show up on an ultrasound of the carotid artery in the neck, says Dr. Yim. Or a primary-care physician might unsuspectingly come across a lump in the neck during a regular check-up, as happened with Burke-Charvet.

2. Once diagnosed, almost all thyroid cancers are treated surgically. That means removing the whole thyroid gland.

3. After surgery, patients receive radioactive iodine to kill off any remaining cancerous cells, says Dr. Yim. Because thyroid tissue is virtually the only tissue in the body that absorbs iodine, radioactive iodine will easily hone in on any remaining thyroid tissue and destroy it.

4. A rise in ultrasound screening which can pick up very small cancers is probably one reason diagnoses are on the rise, says Dr. Yim, but larger cancers are being detected as well.

5. Being a woman is a risk factor for thyroid cancer, which occurs about three times as often in women than in men in the U.S.

6. Women are also more likely to develop thyroid cancer in their 40s or 50s (Burke-Charvet is 41) while men are more likely to develop it in their 60s or 70s.

7. Exposure to radiation is another major risk factor. Survivors of the Chernobyl catastrophe in the former Soviet Union, especially children and adolescents, had a 5-6 fold increased risk of thyroid cancer after the accident. Children in the U.S. who received radiation to treat acne or enlarged tonsils, a common practice before the 1960s, are also at higher risk. Fortunately, these types of treatments are no longer performed. Another source of radiation exposure comes from aboveground nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Older Americans can determine their possible risk from this exposure at the National Cancer Institute.

8. Today, radiation exposure could come from CT scans or high-dose radiation to treat lymphoma or even from radon gas, which is why it’s so important to test for radon. Mammograms, on the other hand, aren’t likely to pose any danger, nor are airport scanners, Yim adds.

For most people, though, “we don’t know clinically why they develop thyroid cancer,” says Dr. Steven I. Sherman chair of endocrine neoplasia and hormonal disorders at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Like other thyroid-cancer survivors who have undergone surgery, Burke-Charvet will have to take thyroid hormone for the rest of her life.

“One of the most important functions of the thyroid gland is to produce thyroid hormone and you need it for your metabolism,” explains Dr. Yim. “You’ll essentially die a slow death over years if you don’t take thyroid hormone.”

But natural hormone is easily replaceable with a daily pill.

Burke-Charvet has already dodged any possible complications of surgery, such as losing her voice due to damage to the nerves controlling the vocal cords, which are located perilously close to the thyroid.

“Surgery went well & I can talk,” she tweeted. “Losing my voice was my biggest fear.”

While Burke-Charvet’s prognosis appears excellent, this is not always the case.

“Common papillary thyroid cancer is one that is considered treatable and most patients live long enough to die of something else, but it can be a fatal disease,” Dr. Sherman warned.

People who are older when they are diagnosed with thyroid cancer are more likely to die of the disease. And, as with other cancers, larger cancers and those that have invaded the lymph nodes are more likely to be fatal.

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Brooke Burke

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You’d never guess looking at her now, laughing over lunch at an outdoor restaurant in Malibu, Calif., but just four months ago Brooke Burke-Charvet was undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. The only sign of her ordeal? She’s wearing a Steri-Strip bandage over the scar on her neck—and she eventually throws a big hat on to protect it from the sun.

The diagnosis was a shock for the 41-year-old Dancing With the Stars co-host. After all, life has been good! Newly married to David Charvet, the mom of four (daughters Neriah, 13, and Sierra, 11, from a previous marriage, and daughter Rain, 6, and son Shaya, 5, with Charvet) was busy juggling her career and blended family when, last spring, her doctor found a lump. Ten biopsies later, she scheduled surgery. She credits a routine checkup with finding her cancer early, and exercise with helping her bounce back (she is now cancer-free).

Burke-Charvet sat down with Health to explain how she stayed strong through her diagnosis and treatment.

Your cancer was caught as a result of a routine physical, right?Yep, it was a regular checkup. The reason I went public about it was to spread the word about preventive health. I book that long, annoying, yearly physical, even when I feel perfectly fine. Do we really want to carve out half the day for that? No, but it’s so important.

My regular doctor, Robert Huizenga, MD—he’s actually a doctor on The Biggest Loser—is very thorough. He noticed an extremely questionable, tiny little thing, and he was like, ‘This might be nothing; I still want you to get an ultrasound.’ And the nodule was large enough that it required a biopsy. The next doctor said, ‘We can’t determine if it’s benign or malignant, so you can come back in six months and get another ultrasound. Or you can get a second opinion.’ Which is what I did. I got a second and a third opinion. I want to say this delicately, but doctors are human beings. In the end, I had 10 biopsies.”

What was it like when you first heard you needed surgery?It just didn’t hit me. It was 8 in the morning, and I was standing in the kitchen, and I get the call, and I was like, “OK, I’ll call you next week.” And he was like, “No, don’t call me next week. We need you to have surgery now.”

What was your treatment after surgery?My nodule was encapsulated, the surrounding tissue was good and it wasn’t in my lymph nodes. So I didn’t have to take radioactive iodine, thank God. After a thyroidectomy, most people have to start taking a synthetic thyroid pill, because your thyroid is gone. But for 10 years I’ve had Hashimoto’s disease, which is when your thyroid is not functioning properly, so I’d already been taking Synthroid.

What was the hardest part of this experience for you?My family’s having to deal with it. My oldest daughter was really worried. My middle daughter, Sierra, was a bit more scientific. And my youngest kids were a little nervous. When you have a medical issue, the whole family goes through it. But thank God it’s over. Over and done.

Have you changed anything since your diagnosis?“I was already eating healthy. But it really confirms how good I feel when I work out. After lying around for a few weeks, I was like, ‘Agh! I need to move. I need to sweat and get that adrenaline rush.’ It’s the best antidepressant. It’s like the best medicine in the world.”

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Beyond a Bad Hair Day: My Struggles with Hair Loss

Recently, near the end of a nice, long chatty dinner with a friend she reached over and readjusted a piece of my hair. “There,” she said. “That’s been driving me crazy all night.”

My hair has been driving her crazy all night? Oh sister, that’s nothing compared to what’s it’s been doing to me for years. Forget the bad hair day, I’ve been struggling with thinning hair for nearly a decade. What my friend saw as a cute little piece of my bangs looking west when she thought it should be facing east was the result of my latest comb-over experiment—another attempt to camouflage the fact that I’ve lost more than half of my hair.

Like most women with hair-loss issues (there are nearly as many of us as there are men with the problem), I don’t have bald patches that appear suddenly (alopecia areata) or a receding hairline. I do have a general thinning on the top of my head, particularly around my part. Which is why I relocate my part on a regular basis—resulting in bangs that are sometimes directionally confused. I also pile my hair on the top of my head a lot, hoping that my messy topknot will flop over in a semi-charming manner, providing more scalp coverage.

My camo efforts typically go straight into the epic fail department, right next to my attempts to figure out what I did to the hair gods to make them punish me like this.

Should I blame my genes? Hair loss can run in families and can be handed down via either gender. Trouble is, I can’t find anybody who is or was balding or with thinning hair on either side of my family—mom, dad, grandparents; nobody! My Aunt Norma is 99 and she still has a full head of hair!

 Is stress the culprit? I haven’t been divorced (which has been linked with stress-related hair loss), nor have I had chemotherapy to treat cancer, which is well known to cause hair loss. I have the usual life stressors that everybody else has, which makes me grumpy because I don’t see most of them having to do elaborate comb overs to hide their hair loss (but then I think about people who have hair loss because of chemo and I feel stupid for even complaining).

Could it be my thyroid? “Please, let my thyroid be underactive!” This is what I say to most every doctor I’ve ever seen, since I think it would be a lovely explanation for my hair loss, weight gain, and the fact that the twin caterpillars I once had sitting above my eyes (my eyebrows) have disappeared. But, alas, my thyroid test results have never come back in a range that inspired any doctor to take corrective action. A thyroid disorder can do a number on the health of your hair, but, apparently, not on mine.

Is it my age? I am 50+ and postmenopausal. And those two things definitely hike a woman’s odds of thinning hair (even in the eyebrow area and elsewhere on the body), in part because of hormone fluctuations.

Given my age and postmenopausal state, the absence of any thyroid issues (I am going to go to my grave insisting that I have an undiagnosed thyroid disorder), and in spite of the fact that I can find no bald spots in my family tree, my dermatologist has decided I may have the female version of male pattern baldness called androgenetic alopecia. Apparently this hereditary brand of hair torture strikes more than 30 million American women my age (all of whom must be much better than I am at hiding it).

What options am I considering? My derm said if my condition worsens I could try to regrow my hair like men do with drugs like Rogaine and a few others now available (no thank you; any growth that occurs stops once you stop applying the drug). I could consider a hair transplant where hair is moved from one part of my head to a part that’s less hairy, but it’s not incredibly successful with women (with men, they’re experimenting with transplanting leg hair to the head; um, eww?).

For now, I’m taking a daily biotin, a B vitamin that’s thought to strengthen hair follicles. I occasionally slather my hair with a highly fragrant product that claims to plump up hair shafts; this does seem to provide a temporary thickening (although the most noticeable side effect is that my dogs seem to want to eat my pungent head). I may even try topical melatonin; in one study men and women showed less hair loss after three months of nightly applications.

In the meantime, I’m getting very creative with my hair styling—and counting on my friends to help me out (or hand me a hat) when my creativity goes awry.

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What It's Really Like to Have Thyroid Cancer

About a little over a year ago, I found myself reclined in an exam chair about to have a big needle jabbed into my neck.

“Big pinch,” the doctor said, as he gave me the local anesthetic. I just stared at the ceiling, trying to remain calm despite the fear and the burning bee sting sensation.

I spent the previous evening drinking wine and Googling, “cancer in your neck,” “biopsy needle,” “lump in neck,” and “thyroid cancer death”—while my six-year-old son, Jack, and our brand new Golden Retriever puppy, Lucia, slept peacefully unaware that their single mom had a very suspicious 4-centimeter lump on her thyroid gland. Two weeks prior, my regular doctor had discovered the lump during a routine physical. An ultrasound and CT scan later, this needle was to determine whether it was cancer.

But it didn’t.

That’s the first thing I learned about having cancer: it can take an awfully long time to confirm that you actually have it.

RELATED: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Saying goodbye to my gland

At my next appointment, my doctor, Erik Cohen, MD, of Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, explained that my biopsy was “inconclusive,” yet “suspicious.” Surgery was scheduled.

On the day of, I pushed through the revolving glass door and before I knew it, the anesthesiologist said, “I’m going to give you something to relax.” A happy feeling took over, and then total, peaceful blackness. When I woke up, my throat was sore from the breathing tube, there was a drain in my neck, an IV in my arm, blood pressure cuffs on my legs, and wires everywhere.

“Did you take out my whole thyroid?” I struggled to ask when I saw Dr. Cohen. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that powers your metabolism. It also plays a role in regulating body temperature and mood. I really wanted to keep as much of mine as I could.

Dr. Cohen explained he removed the tumor and right side, and that the tests in the OR presented mixed reviews—again. He needed more pathology tests. Still, the left part of my gland remained. A small win, I thought.

RELATED: 15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

The big bad reveal

There are approximately 60,000 new cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed each year, with women accounting for 75% of cases. At my post-op appointment, I knew immediately that I was one of those some-60,000 by the way Dr. Cohen looked at my chart. “So, as it turns out…” he began.

My official diagnosis: follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (FVPTC). Sitting on the exam table, I was having trouble reconciling this information with the other facts of my life. But I’m only 33, I thought to myself. I’ve never smoked a cigarette a day in my life. I drink green juice and exercise. And the most important: I can’t be sick. I’m Jack’s mom.

Some more facts I was learning: thyroid cancer has a survival rate of nearly 97% after five years. These facts asserted that “in general” my kind of cancer is “good.” But what about that other 3%? And oh yeah, Dr. Cohen explained, I now needed another surgery.  The rest of my thyroid had to go, and I probably also needed radioactive iodine therapy, a type of radiation treatment also known as “RAI.”

This was not the first time life had thrown me a curveball, so I tried to remain calm, telling myself I always find a way to work things out, or at least find an inch of silver lining. But I did not convince myself at all.

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A new normal

After my second surgery rendered me completely thyroid-less, I was started on 100 mg of Synthroid, a standard drug that replaces the hormones the thyroid gland naturally produces.

I am so thankful my cancer was treatable, and that medication exists to replace what my vital gland once did. But let me tell you, life without a thyroid is not a piece of cake. I was perpetually tired and depressed, but also anxious and constantly obsessing about my weight and diet. I was cold when it was warm outside, and sweating when the AC was on.

On top of all that, I still had RAI treatment to look forward to.

Normally, the thyroid gland absorbs iodine in your body. So when thyroid cancer patients take radioactive iodine in pill or capsule form, the radiation concentrates in any leftover thyroid cells and destroys them, without affecting the rest of the body.

To prep for this, I was put on a low-iodine diet (no iodized salt, dairy, eggs, pizza, cheese or seafood for me!), and given thyrogen injections to rapidly raise my thyroid hormone levels to make the radiation effective at killing as many lingering cancer cells as possible.

When I showed up in the Nuclear Medicine department in the basement of the hospital, the radiologist entered in a mask, lead apron, and gloves to protect himself from the thing he wanted me to swallow. I signed the papers saying I would isolate myself from others for 5 days and not get pregnant for a year. Scared and fascinated at the same time, I swallowed the pill and left the hospital with enough radiation to set off alarms at airports.

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I felt like I had the flu, and because I could still set off a Geiger counter, I had to sweat it out alone. I had weepy moments but I got through it, and a few short days later my son and my dog got to come home. Jack busted through the door like a ball of energy and Lucia jumped on me, so excited she peed right there. Having Jack back in my arms, his cookie crumbs on the couch, and new drawings on the fridge made my home whole again. Since I could eat again we celebrated with pizza—extra cheese—and frozen yogurt. And I knew a year of hell was worth being healthy for him.

One year later

Now I see an endocrinologist every few months, and I’m still struggling to find a good balance.

Every “thyca” survivor I’ve befriended has gone down this same endo rabbit hole, trying to find a doctor that understands. I need more than a pill; I need energy, a healthy weight, happiness. My meds have been adjusted four times this year in an effort to achieve this, and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I might never be symptom-free. That’s why I bristle when I hear people say thyroid cancer is a “good” cancer—there’s just no such thing.

But on September 10 I celebrated one year in remission, and that does feel good. It was the hardest year of my life but I got so much out of it. Being part of the “Big C club” is scary but it reminds me every day how amazing life is.

If I could tell one person to check their neck today and they listened, this article will have done its job. You can examine your own thyroid by feeling just above the collarbone on either side of the trachea with your fingertips—something I never did. Look out for any swelling or lumps. Don’t wait to see your doctor if you feel anything strange.

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After a Viewer Diagnosed His Thyroid Cancer, HGTV Star Is Now in Remission

In June 2013, HGTV star Tarek El Moussa’s life changed forever when he received a not-so-ordinary piece of fan mail: a letter urging him to get a biopsy for a suspicious-looking lump on his neck. Now two and a half years later, the Flip or Flop host is in remission and feeling good after a lengthy battle with thyroid cancer.

“I feel good, but I don’t have the energy I used to have,” El Moussa, 34, told People in a new interview. “The only thing is most days or like half the time I feel a little jet-lagged. I’m really tired.”

The real estate agent first learned of his diagnosis after a fan (who also happened to be a registered nurse) penned the life-saving letter to the show’s producers. She noticed the lump while watching a marathon.

RELATED: 15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

The warning letter made complete sense, El Moussa explained to People in September 2013, given that he was having a hard time swallowing at the time and also noticed himself that the lump was getting bigger. “I actually went to the doctor twice for it, and they said it’s nothing,” he told the magazine. “So, once I saw [the note from the fan], I was like, ‘You know what? I need to get a second opinion.'”

El Moussa’s initial ultrasound showed there was only a 5 percent chance of the lump being cancerous. Then on June 12, 2013, he underwent a biopsy that showed the lump was in fact malignant, and it had to be removed entirely.

But that wasn’t the end of the family’s battle: The cancer had spread to El Moussa’s lymph nodes, requiring him to undergo radioactive iodine therapy, a common treatment for this type of cancer.

Because the thyroid gland absorbs iodine, when the radioactive form is taken orally it collects in thyroid cells (both cancerous and not) and destroys them. It’s an effective treatment and has fewer side effects than say, chemotherapy, but the patient often has to be isolated afterward to prevent others from being exposed to the radiation.

El Moussa described the agonizing separation from his wife, Christina (who is also his Flip or Flop co-host), and daughter, Taylor. “It was a nightmare,” he told People in 2013. “They stay in a different bedroom, and I can’t stay with my daughter for more than a few minutes at a time. She wanted to hug me and watch TV every night and give kisses, and we couldn’t do that.”

Today, though, the family’s future looks brighter than ever. The couple welcomed a baby boy, Brayden James, this past September. “There is always that chance of reccurrence, but every year that goes by the odds of reccurrence goes down, so it’s good,” El Moussa said. “I have slowed down quite a bit. Which is actually a good thing because I can actually relax now.”

RELATED: What It’s Really Like to Have Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer has become discussed more and more, in part due to the powers of television and Hollywood. Stars including Brooke Burke-Charvet and Sophia Vergara have also battled the disease. (It’s three times as common in women than men.)

But the thyroid—a hormonal gland in the neck that helps regulate bodily functions, including your metabolism and heartbeat—remains a mystery to many, and the symptoms of the cancer are typically subtle, or even non-existent in many cases. Most of the time, the only sign is noticing a small lump, or nodule, on the neck. A larger nodule, however, can put added pressure on the esophagus and cause difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath.

It’s also important to note that a lump doesn’t always signal cancer. About half of adults will have a nodule on the thyroid, but only about 5 percent are malignant.

The good news: Thyroid cancer is almost always treatable, although there are some forms that are more aggressive. The 10-year survival rate for patients with papillary thyroid cancer, the most common type, is 95%. The prognosis is even better for individuals under 40 or for those with smaller tumors.

RELATED: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

4 Things You Should Do to Keep Your Thyroid Healthy

If you don’t have a thyroid problem, you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, which helps regulate metabolism and body temperature (among other things). But are pretty common—some experts believe 30% of women will develop one in their lifetime.

An autoimmune disorder can throw your gland out of whack, but it’s thought that lifestyle factors (like stress or diet) also can play a role. Hyperthyroidism (aka an overactive thyroid) can cause rapid weight loss, an unusually fast heartbeat, and anxiety; while hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) can trigger constipation, weight gain, and extreme fatigue.

If you suspect you have a thyroid problem, consult your doctor about potential treatment options. But in addition to medical treatment, there are a few lifestyle changes that can help keep your thyroid on track. We spoke to Ashita Gupta, MD, an integrative endocrinologist at Mount Sinai West in New York City, about how to maintain a healthy thyroid. Here, her four big recommendations.

RELATED: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Go Mediterranean

One of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy thyroid is eat a well-balanced diet. “Seventy percent of our autoimmune system is found in our intestines, known as GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue,” Dr. Gupta explains. “When the intestinal lining becomes inflamed, it can trigger an immune response. Studies show that this plays a role in the development of thyroid disease.”

To help keep inflammation in check, Dr. Gupta recommends following a Mediterranean diet. She suggests aiming for four to five servings of vegetables and three to four servings of fruit each day, along with plenty of lean proteins and fatty fish, such as salmon, herring, anchovies, and mackerel. For other healthy fats, Dr. Gupta likes extra-virgin olive oil, expeller-pressed organic canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters, and avocados.

Be wary of certain foods

No surprise here: Dr. Gupta says you should steer clear of processed foods packed with sugar and preservatives, dyes, or fat- and sugar-free substitutes. “Processed foods including trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and refined sugar can cause intestinal inflammation and in turn, trigger autoimmune flare-ups,” she says. “This is not specific to the thyroid, but the autoimmune system can affect various parts of the body.”

RELATED: 15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

A less obvious culprit? Cruciferous veggies such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, watercress, Bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. They may be packed with good-for-you nutrients like vitamin C and folate, but eating them raw in high doses could mess with your thyroid. “Uncooked cruciferous vegetables contain natural chemicals called goitrogens (goiter producers) that can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis,” she says. But don’t panic just yet, kale lovers: “The goitrogens in these foods are inactivated by cooking, or even by light steaming, so you can still consume them for their valuable antioxidant and cancer-protective effects.” (Phew!)

Consider supplements… But talk to your doctor first

You’ve probably heard that there’s a connection between thyroid health and iodine, which is essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. “Worldwide, iodine deficiency is one of the causes of an enlarged thyroid gland and hypothyroidism,” Dr. Gupta says. “However, iodine deficiency is rare in developed countries due to supplementation in table salt and certain foods such as dairy and bread.” In other words, you’re probably already getting enough iodine in your diet as is. In fact, too much iodine can trigger hyperthyroidism in susceptible individuals, so Dr. Gupta doesn’t recommend taking iodine pills without consulting your doctor.

On the other hand, if you suspect your thyroid may need a boost, speak to your doctor about taking selenium or vitamin D, both of which have been linked to improved thyroid health. “Clinical research shows that taking 200 mcg daily of the mineral selenium can reduce anti-thyroid antibodies,” says Dr. Gupta. “Alternatively, you can get the mineral by eating one to two Brazil nuts each day.” (Yup, it’s that simple!)

RELATED: After a Viewer Diagnosed His Thyroid Cancer, HGTV Star Is Now in Remission

As for vitamin D, some research suggests it could be important in regulating the immune system: “Severe deficiency of vitamin D may be associated with autoimmune disease, so have your physician check your vitamin D levels and advise you about supplementation if the level is below normal,” she says.

Dr. Gupta also recommends taking probiotics, which offer a whole host of health benefits. “Probiotics can help modulate the immune system, enhance gut motility, and improve intestinal permeability,” she says. She suggests looking for over-the-counter blends that contain the active cultures Saccahromyces boulardii and Lactobacillus acidophilus or eating natural sources like yogurt and kefir.

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Try your best to avoid these environmental toxins

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, long-term exposure to endocrine disruptorschemicals that interfere with your body’s endocrine systemmay trigger endocrine problems in humans. A few to be aware of are perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in some carpets, flame-resistant and waterproof clothing, and non-stick cookware, all of which were linked to thyroid disease in a 2010 study. Similarly, in 2011 researchers found that exposure to phthalates (found in fragranced products and soft plastics) and bisphenol-A (found in some hard plastics and canned food linings, although many manufacturers are removing them) could cause disruptions in thyroid hormone levels.

Dr. Gupta also recommends avoiding antibacterial soaps that contain triclosan, an ingredient that has altered hormone regulation in studies of animals (human studies are still ongoing), according to the FDA.

RELATED: What It’s Really Like to Have Thyroid Cancer

Although it would be impossible to avoid these completely, the key is to reduce your exposure as much as you can, especially if you’re pregnant or have little ones in the housedeveloping fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable to any effects of environmental chemicals.

Following some general guidelines can go a long way. “Just use [regular] soap and water to wash your hands instead,” she says. “Use essential oils when fragrance is needed.”

Other things you can do include, choosing more fresh or frozen foods over canned, storing food in porcelain or glass rather than plastics, and keeping your home well-ventilated.

Thyroid Cancer Survivors Face Low Quality of Life, Study Finds

TUESDAY, Dec. 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Thyroid cancer survivors report lower quality of life than people who survive deadlier cancers, a new study finds.

About 98 percent of thyroid cancer patients survive five years and more than 95 percent survive a decade, leading some to call it a “good cancer.”

Moreover, thyroid cancer, which is on the rise, could soon account for 10 percent of all cancer survivors in the United States, researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center said.

The study included nearly 1,200 thyroid cancer survivors, average age 48, from across the United States and Canada. They were given a questionnaire that assessed their physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being. The survivors reported an average of 5.5 out of 10 on a quality-of-life scale. This was lower than the average of 6.75 among survivors of colon, breast and other types of cancer that require more intensive treatment and have worse prognoses, the study found.

Thyroid cancer survivors have a high rate of disease recurrence and require lifetime cancer surveillance, which could help explain their lower quality-of-life scores, the researchers said.

“I think we all have this fear of cancer that has been ingrained in our society. So, no matter what the prognosis is, we’re just terrified that we have a cancer. I think this shows that,” study co-author Dr. Raymon Grogan, an assistant professor of surgery, said in a university news release.

Younger, female and less educated thyroid cancer survivors tended to have the lowest quality-of-life scores. Many had participated in survivor groups, the researchers noted.

After five years, however, the researchers found that quality-of-life scores gradually increased.

The study was published recently in the journal Thyroid.

Grogan wants to continue following the study participants and develop a tool to help doctors assess the mental health of thyroid cancer survivors.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about thyroid cancer.


5 Things Cancer Taught Me About Loving My Body

I’ve struggled with my weight and body image since I was in the first grade.

For years, I would stand in front of the mirror and cry at the big and ugly girl that stared back at me. I hated my body and wished that I could disappear, all because the number on the tag of my dress and the number on the scale made me feel insignificant. I had very little self-esteem and a whole lot of insecurities.

Despite years of therapy and piles of self-help books, my self image didn’t shift until 2011, when at the age of 37, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After all the treatments and surgeries, I realized how blessed I was to have a body that was strong enough to fight through illness and withstand surgeries and radiation. Despite the pain and trauma, I was in awe at the resiliency and power of my body—the same body that I had always cursed.

RELATED: 15 Thyroid Cancer Facts Everyone Should Know

To paraphrase author Kris Carr of Crazy Sexy Cancer fame, I would never call cancer a gift, because I would never want to give it to you… But it was the best teacher that I’ve ever had. It taught me to love myself and appreciate my body just the way it is. Here’s how cancer showed me the path to compassion and self-esteem.

Love what your body can do, not what it looks like

From 2011 to 2013 I had several surgeries and treatments, but the last and most intense one came in May 2013. Half of my pancreas was removed, and during the surgery my spleen ruptured and my ab muscles had to be cut open, leaving me unable to get in and out of bed or even walk to the bathroom without the assistance of an army of nurses and a cane.

For so long I had made self-deprecating remarks about my “fat” body, but now that my body was falling apart I came to the realization that my body was, and is, remarkable. I couldn’t stop thinking about how marvelous my abs and all of the organs and glands that I had lost were, and how well they had served me for most of my life. My long lost thyroid had provided me with energizing hormones that I needed to get me through my day; my spleen had protected me from disease; my lovely pancreas provided enzymes to break down my food into nutrients.

But it was my “fat” belly that I was most in awe of. Now that I couldn’t move, I came to appreciate how strong my muscles were—how my abs held me in plank position while I did yoga, and my strong legs and thighs carried me as I climbed inside the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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The greatest gift of this whole experience was getting reacquainted with my body and spirit, both of which have ALWAYS been strong and resilient. Despite the pain, stitches, and wounds, I came to appreciate my body in a way that I had never done before, and I offered myself the compassion, love, and acceptance that I had never allowed before. My perspective shifted from wishing that my body looked like someone else’s to celebrating what had always been mine.

Fake it until you make it

I started off the process of change by just being grateful for each day and being grateful for being alive. As my marvelous body healed, I began using affirmations as a way to show my body and my spirit how much I admired its strength. Then on January 1, 2014, I made a conscious vow to love and respect myself in a way that I never had before.

It may sound superficial, but I used my love of fashion to get me there. For years I dressed like an old woman in mourning (head-to-toe black with a bun to match) and I used clothing to hide my body and become invisible. In retrospect, I now see that by doing so, I was letting the world know how badly I felt about myself without uttering a word.

I decided to say kind things to my body and experiment with fashion. I joined Gwynnie Bee, a clothing subscription site for plus size women, and stopped wearing frumpy dresses with flats. Eventually, I even let my hair down and stopped wearing it in a bun.

At first, I felt like I was faking it because I wasn’t used to showing myself any kindness (or even used to wearing a belted dress!), but I decided to keep going with it. Now I feel comfortable wearing bright prints, high heels and, literally, letting my hair down. But most importantly, I no longer let the size printed on the tag in my dress devalue me.

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People respond to your energy, not your looks

As I shifted my perspective from self-loathing to self-love, people started to treat me differently. And it wasn’t so much how I looked but the energy that I was projecting.

I was literally walking with my head up, smiling more, chatting with strangers, and exercising more compassion with myself and with others. I also changed the words that I used. I stopped insulting myself with phrases like “I look like crap” or “I’m so fat!” Words are powerful and I wanted to make sure that I chose them carefully when speaking to myself.

So many of my friends took notice. I’ll never forget when one of my co-workers, whom I first met before my transformation, told me how proud she was of me. Even though I hadn’t told her what I was doing, she had noticed that I was dressing differently (I do work at a fashion magazine, after all)—but most importantly, she told me that I was “projecting a strong confidence” that everyone could see. Something about what she said made me feel like the outside world could finally see me—the real me.

Look at yourself from 20 years in the future

One day while I was recovering from one of my surgeries, I found an old photo of myself from when I was 20 years old and in art school. Despite being a photography major, I hated getting my photo taken because I thought that I was so fat and worthless.

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As I stared at the photo, tears welled up in my eyes. My 39-year-old self finally saw my 20-year-old self for who she really was—I was NOT fat and NOT ugly. My skin was luminous, my hair was shiny, and my athletic body was curvy and strong. I was beautiful!

Now when I’m having an off day or I’m in a funk, I think to myself, “What would 60-year-old me say about me at this moment?” The answer is always free of judgment and always filled with wisdom and compassion.

Loving your body helps you love your whole self

As I practiced the art of loving and taking care of myself, I began to let go of things that were weighing me down, all things that were painful and exhausting—everything from self-loathing and cursing my body to ending an unhealthy 18-year relationship with a man I’d thought I would spend the rest of my life with. As difficult as it was sometimes, the more that I started to treat myself with true love and respect, the less tolerant I became of toxic energy and the more confident I became.

Sharing the lessons that cancer taught me is now my passion. I never want anyone—especially women—to have to experience a traumatic event before they realize what a miracle their body is and has always been. My body went through cancer, several surgeries, and radiation and not only survived, but my body and I are thriving! My scars still hurt but I’m so proud of them—each one reminds me that I’m strong, resilient, and able to thrive in the midst of adversity.

My body is a miracle and my only regret is not falling in love with it sooner—before the cancer, before the scars, before I needed a cane to walk, before the hair loss, before the hospitals. But I accept this as not only part of my journey, but as part of my mission.

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The most important lesson I’ve learned is that we need to live in gratitude for what we have—it’s the only way to transform into who we truly are. Be proud and let the world see who you are. You and I are beautiful so let’s celebrate ourselves in the New Year!

Rosaliz Jimenez is the Photo Director at People StyleWatch, and a body confidence advocate.

Strict "Healthy" Diets in 2 Children Linked to Thyroid Trouble

By Amy NortonHealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 10, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Two cases of children who developed iodine deficiency highlight the risks of putting too many restrictions on young kids’ diets, researchers say.

The doctors said that the children—aged 2 and 5—developed iodine deficiency because their diets lacked salt, dairy products, bread, and other sources of the mineral.

Iodine deficiency is common in developing countries, but was virtually eliminated in the United States after iodized salt was introduced almost a century ago.

However, it can still happen if a child’s diet is strictly limited, said study author Dr. Brigid Gregg. She is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“Parents should be aware that if they’re really restricting the foods their children eat, iodine deficiency is a possibility,” Gregg said.

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones, which help control metabolism and other essential functions. Lacking iodine, the thyroid gland can become underactive—what’s known as hypothyroidism.

In infants and young children, that can result in stunted growth and even brain damage, Gregg pointed out.

Still, she said, when a young child is not growing well, hypothyroidism is “not the first thing that jumps to mind.” And when hypothyroidism is suspected, doctors would not immediately think iodine deficiency is at the root of the problem, she added.

“We don’t typically think of it in this country, because we’ve considered the problem ‘solved’ in the U.S.,” Gregg said.

One of the children her team treated was 5 years old and had been diagnosed with autism. His parents were keeping him on a gluten-free, casein-free diet—which meant he wasn’t getting the dairy products and grains that are major iodine sources in the typical American diet.

His parents brought him to the pediatrician because he was suffering from fatigue and chronic constipation, which are two symptoms of hypothyroidism. The doctor discovered the boy had a goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland.

From there, the boy was tested for autoimmune thyroid disease, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the gland. But there was no evidence that his immune system had turned against him.

Instead, it turned out to be iodine deficiency.

The second case involved a 2-year-old boy with stunted growth and a limited diet—both because he refused many foods, and because of his parents’ restrictions. They’d replaced cow’s milk with coconut milk, avoided processed foods and used sea salt instead of table salt.

Those were well-intended moves, Gregg said. The problem was, the child’s diet had no good iodine sources.

Neither sea salt nor coconut milk contain the mineral, said Marina Chaparro, a clinical dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“I’d recommend using iodized salt,” said Chaparro, who was not involved in the study. “That’s probably the easiest way to make sure your child is getting enough iodine.”

And it doesn’t take a lot, she noted: A half teaspoon of iodized salt each day would be enough for a child.

Milk, yogurt and commercially made breads are probably the most child-friendly food sources of iodine, according to Chaparro. But fish and seaweed also contain it, she said.

To Chaparro, the two cases highlight a broader issue: Children with restricted diets could be at risk of various nutritional deficiencies if parents aren’t well-informed.

“Children aren’t small adults, and we need to be mindful about placing our own dietary restrictions on them,” Chaparro said.

She suggested that when parents do eliminate certain foods—such as meat or dairy or gluten-containing grains—they talk to their pediatrician or a dietitian about how to best replace those foods.

Chaparro also cautioned parents against getting caught up in diet trends. “Never put a child on a fad diet,” she said.

The findings were published online May 10 in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on iodine.


Frequent Headaches May Raise Your Risk for Thyroid Disease

Do you get all the time? As if that weren’t bad enough, you may be at increased risk for hypothyroidism—a common medical problem that can cause mood swings and weight gain, among other seriously unpleasant symptoms.

Previous research has suggested a link between the two conditions, and now, one of the largest and longest studies to date provides the strongest evidence yet. University of Cincinnati researchers found that people with headache disorders were 21% more likely to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, compared to those without.

The group included anyone who’d been diagnosed with migraines, cluster headaches, or tension headaches, or who reported taking headache-specific medicine. Among sufferers specifically, the increased risk jumped to 41%.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the body can’t make enough thyroid hormone to function properly. It can affect mood, weight, energy levels, concentration, and women’s , and can even cause constipation and hair loss. The condition is estimated to affect about 2% of people, and women are five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed than men.

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To investigate the suspected link between headaches and , researchers looked at data from 8,412 people who were interviewed and followed for an average of 12 years. The results were published this week in the online edition of Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.

The study’s implications may apply most to people who get headaches regularly, says co-author Vincent Martin, MD, co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, because a large percentage of study participants with headache disorders stated on a questionnaire that their headaches were “frequent.”

There are several reasons why headache disorders may be a risk factor for thyroid problems, Dr. Martin says. One possibility is that an overactive immune system—triggered by recurrent headaches—makes the body more vulnerable to thyroid disease. Inflammation also seems to be involved in both conditions.

“No one knows for sure why there’s an association,” he adds. “It could even be a product of some of the medications people take to prevent their headaches; we just don’t know yet.” Environmental or genetic factors could play a role as well.

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It’s also possible that the development of a thyroid disorder, and subsequent low thyroid hormone levels, can make headaches worse and more frequent, Dr. Martin says.

In addition to headache disorders, people were more likely to receive a hypothyroidism diagnosis if they were female, older, , or taking certain medications, such as lithium, interferon, and amiodarone. Cigarette smoking actually seemed to have a protective effect—although no doctors would recommend this as a preventive measure, says Dr. Martin, as its risks greatly outweigh its benefits.

The good news? The symptoms of hypothyroidism can be well managed with replacement hormones, usually taken as a daily pill. “The silver lining here is that if you are diagnosed with thyroid disease, it can be easily treated—and if it is treated, your headaches or your migraines might actually improve.”

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Dr. Martin encourages physicians to be vigilant in screening people with known headache disorders for hypothyroidism, and says anyone with regular headaches should be aware of their increased risk, too. 

“When you have migraines or bad headaches, you can feel fatigued, you don’t think quite as well, you can have a lot of symptoms that can resemble hypothyroidism,” he says. “Some people might be attributing those symptoms to their headaches or to the treatments for them, when in reality they have an underlying—and treatable—thyroid disorder.”