Thyroid cancer is on the rise and occurs in people of all ages, though women over 40 are statistically stricken with it more than men or other age groups.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 48,020 men and women were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011 (11,470 men and 36,550 women).
Lisa Rogge, a Vistage Group Chair, and founder of www.medichef.com, was 53 when her gynecologist detected nodules on her thyroid during a routine physical.
“I didn’t have any symptoms,” she said. “After that I had a biopsy and they still weren’t convinced that I had cancer.”
Nonetheless, on the advice of her endocrinologist, Rogge decided to have her thyroid removed and cancer was found. But it wasn’t until the radioactive iodine treatment that she became nervous.
“I was the most freaked out I had been through the whole process,” she said.
Radioactive Iodine Ablation Treatment (also known as radioiodine, I-131 or RAI) is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. There are four types of thyroid cancer, and thyroid cancer is the most common type of endocrine cancer.
While the cause of most thyroid cancer is unknown, people who were exposed to large amounts of radiation in childhood have a higher chance of getting it. There is a genetic test for medullary thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer is usually highly treatable, though the prognosis depends on tumor size, whether the cancer has metastasized and the age of the person.
During her after surgery home care, Rogge found herself on an extremely limited low-iodine diet for a couple of weeks before the treatment, and then temporarily isolated from other people for a few days afterward.
“I never even heard of a low-iodine diet before my diagnosis,” she said. “It’s tough to cook for — no dairy, very little meat, no seafood, nothing canned.”
During that first treatment, Rogge found herself eating bananas, an unsalted natural peanut butter and some kosher crackers — only. During a second round of radioactive iodine treatment, she experimented with recipes to create a carrot-pineapple bread without egg yolks, butter, or yeast. “It tasted so good, I thought, ‘I can get through this’,” she said. From there, she created www.medichef.com, which provides frozen prepared low-iodine meals for people going through thyroid cancer treatments.
The American Thyroid Association provides online brochures with details about low-iodine diets as well. The issue is not sodium, but the added iodine found in iodized salt, which is widely used in processed foods.
Intense radioactive iodine treatment is a form of screening, which helps doctors to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. “If the thyroid cancer spread, they give you iodine and if they see it in your lungs, for example, then it’s an indicator that the cancer spread there,” she explained. The radioactive iodine treatment is typically given once for treatment and again for a follow-up scan, Rogge said.
The Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association, Inc. offers an online low-iodine cookbook for people going through the treatment.
As with any cancer, early detection is key to survival. On the Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association, Inc. site is also a free “How To Take the Thyroid Neck Check” so that people can do a simple self-exam at home in order to find enlarged thyroid glands or thyroid nodules. Rogge candidly said that she thought it was “strange” her doctor was checking her neck during her annual exam, and now she encourages others to get checked and do this self-exam.