Performing a Neck Check for Thyroid Cancer

Doctor looks at scans during a thyroid cancer clinical trialLuckily, patients with thyroid cancer usually are given a very good prognosis (it has a 97 percent five-year survival rate). However, this is not a good excuse to be ignorant of the potential warning signs, especially because you can easily perform a self-exam for thyroid cancer at your own home.

Right now, there are an estimated 15 million Americans living with undiagnosed thyroid complications. This is why the American College of Endocrinology, an offshoot of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), have issued a few guidelines on performing a ‘Neck Check’ self-exam for thyroid cancer.

Performing Your Own Neck Check Exam

This ‘neck check’ is actually a really simple procedure that can be performed almost anywhere. All you really need is a mirror and a glass of water, then you can start looking for thyroid cancer symptoms.

Here are some straightforward guidelines from Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, president of the AACE and a clinical professor of Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease at Mount Sinai School of Medicine:

  • First off, find your thyroid gland, it is located above your collarbone and below the voice box (larynx). Be sure you’re not confusing your Adam’s apple for your thyroid gland, which is right above it.
  • Now that you have found it, tilt your head back and swallow some of the water.
  • Keep an eye on the mirror while you swallow. You’ll be looking for any static or sudden bumps in the area.

Who Needs to Perform a Thyroid Self-Exam

Unfortunately, oncologists and other experts don’t have a recommendation for when someone should start performing these self-exams. On the other hand, Dr. Mechanick notes that this type of cancer could manifest in early adulthood. Although, it is rare amongst teenagers and children.

“Every person when they have their general physical should have a thyroid exam, and then people who are at higher risk should potentially have a thyroid ultrasound…and not rely just on the manual exam,” states Mechanick. “By doing this you can detect thyroid cancer at the very early stages.”

Need to Know Facts About Thyroid Cancer

In some cases, the symptoms of thyroid cancer aren’t specific, which means that there might not be any structural abnormality present, such as a lump around the thyroid gland. Still, the most common warning sign for thyroid cancer is a mass in the neck.

If you have a family medical history of clinically under-active or overactive thyroid glands, then you are at greater risk for developing thyroid complications. Other risk factors for thyroid cancer include exposure to radiation as the result of various medical treatment applied to the head and neck, as well as toxic radiation exposure (this doesn’t include medical imaging tests like X-ray tests).

Fortunately, this type of cancer is slow-growing, and it is rare for people to succumb to this disease. Thyroid cancer can be treated with surgery or radioactive iodine treatment, and it almost never requires any further therapy afterwards. Early detection is the only way to prevent thyroid cancer from fully developing, and this is why the ‘neck check’ can be so crucial.