What it is A disease that affects the thyroid—a small, butterfly-shaped gland located beneath the Adam's apple, which produces thyroid hormone. The hormone helps regulate metabolism and keeps the cardiovascular and central nervous systems functioning normally.
How common According to the NCI, the rate of incidence is about 11 new cases of thyroid cancer per year for every 100,000 women ages 20-39. The cancer is three times more common in women than in men, and it is the most rapidly growing form of cancer in women. 1,400 Americans die of the disease each year.
Red flags Patients themselves occasionally detect a lump in their neck—what's described as a "second Adam's apple," a usually painless lump that moves up and down when you swallow. In rare cases there are other symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing solid foods, hoarseness, pain below the Adam's apple or pain that radiates to the jaw and ear, and/or a persistent cough—particularly one accompanied by blood.
Risk reduction The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends doing a "neck check": Use a hand-held mirror to examine the area below your Adam's apple and above your collarbone. Take a sip of water, tip your head back, and swallow, watching for any bulges. To make sure you're not confusing the thyroid gland with your Adam's apple, repeat the test. If you spot anything abnormal, visit your physician.
Treatment options About 95 percent of thyroid nodules are benign, but if a biopsy turns out positive, a surgeon may remove half or all of the gland. One or two months post-surgery, you'll typically take a one-time pill containing radioactive iodine, which kills any remaining thyroid tissue, followed by a lifelong course of thyroid-hormone therapy to replace the hormone your missing gland can no longer provide. In advanced cases when the cancer has spread, radiation therapy is sometimes required to relieve pain and to help stop or slow the growth of tumor tissue.
Survival rate If detected early in young women, the relative survival rate of papillary thyroid cancer—the most common type, which comprises about 90 percent of thyroid cancers for women 20-39 and is most likely to affect those under 40 —is extremely high. The NCI reports that the five-year survival rate is more than 95 percent for women ages 20-39 who've been diagnosed with advanced papillary thyroid cancer.