Your Open-Notes, Thyroid Exam
Take a look at your neck — but not for signs of advancing, or already obvious, aging.
We are looking for lumps and bumps, those possible indicators of thyroid cancer. The reason: Thyroid cancer is becoming another significant women’s health issue.
How significant an issue? There are about 44,000 new cases of thyroid cancer a year – with women being three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer. It’s been estimated that 2,200 people die from it every year (equally split between men and women). From 2009 to 2018, the death rate of thyroid cancer increased 0.6% per year – a combined total of 5.4%. Since 2018, research shows that the number has stabilized.
The people who really need to look are those who had radiation therapy when they were younger, so a neck-check could be important. The risk of thyroid cancer after exposure to radiation is proven, and the risk increases with multiple treatments and dose sizes.
Something else to take a look at is your kitchen table. What kind of salt do you have there? Mineral salt is generally prettier, but consider making room for iodine salt. Without iodine, your thyroid could find it tougher to produce hormones. Once you start a conversation with your physician, iodine salt is probably going to be brought up.
If you were hoping to leave examinations behind after graduation – sorry, that isn’t the case here. (But, no need to spend sleepless nights cramming for this one!).
This exam is only 3-1/2 questions long…and it’s open notes.
Before you start: Get a glass of water and a handheld mirror. If you don’t have a handheld mirror then try to get as close to a mirror as you can. A magnifying mirror won’t help since it usually shows too small an area. You need to be looking just above your collarbone and just under your Adam’s apple for this exam.
Step 1. While looking in the mirror – tip your head back in a way that your neck is stretched but you can still see it in the mirror. If you wear glasses, try taking them off. Readers might be best.
Step 2. Take a few sips of water. The baby sips that you take to get rid of hiccups are too small. Just pretend you are drinking water because you like to drink water.
Step 3. As you swallow, keep your eyes on your neck. Once finished, use a few fingers to feel for enlargements or bumps along your collarbone. Can’t breathe? Ease off. Just gently press and push underneath and around your Adam’s apple. (You can ignore whatever the apple is doing.)
Just pay attention to whatever is going on underneath the apple, and a bit above your collarbone, because here is your thyroid gland, which kind of resembles the shape of a butterfly. If there are bulges or protrusions, make a note.
Step 3a. Repeat step 3 as much as you want. Water is good for you, so you can hydrate and check at the same time.
If you do notice something, resist panicking, and here’s why.
A 2021 study showed that more than 90% of identified thyroid nodules are benign. Only 4% to 6.5% turn out to be malignant. But, regardless, you should call your physician.
If you’d rather not stand in front of your mirror but still wish to check your neck – try a little karaoke. Yes, checking your neck while singing can be revealing. If your neck tissue is stiff while performing a constant “eeee” sound, you may want to repeat your performance for your physician, who can take a closer look with an ultrasound.
Medically reviewed by Yvonne Stolworthy, MSN, RN.
Image credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.