U of M doctor: Thyroid cancer is 'very curable'

By Jeff Hansel

Most cases of thyroid cancer are easily treated, a University of Minnesota doctor says.

"If caught early, long-term survival is over 90 percent. The treatments are safe, well-tolerated. It's a very curable tumor," said Dr. Todd Tuttle, a surgical oncologist.

A statement issued by the Supreme Court on Monday said Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has thyroid cancer, but did not say which type. Rehnquist was admitted Friday to Bethesda Naval Hospital, and a court statement said he is expected to return to the bench on Nov. 1.


Tuttle said there are several different types of thyroid cancer. The thyroid is a gland located in the neck just below the Adam's apple. The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or nodule in the neck. The lump can sometimes be seen in a mirror as a bump, he said. More advanced symptoms can include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and pain.

People are at increased risk of thyroid cancer if they have had radiation treatment in the head or neck region, or exposure to radiation associated with a nuclear accident, Tuttle said.

Some families also have a higher risk, he said, speaking of the condition in general and not specifically about Rehnquist's case.

If thyroid cancer is detected, surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid is the standard treatment, Tuttle said.

Most patients have the entire thyroid removed and also undergo radioactive iodine treatment to kill remaining thyroid cells. The thyroid normally absorbs iodine, Tuttle said, so radioactive iodine is an effective way to target remaining cancerous cells.

Most patients take lifelong hormone replacement therapy after treatment and do quite well, he said.

The prognosis for thyroid cancer is better if the tumor is discovered early, Tuttle said. People should see a family or internal-medicine doctor if they suspect thyroid cancer or have a lump in the neck, pain, difficulty swallowing or new hoarseness, he said.

Mayo Clinic officials declined to comment for this article.

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