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Published on February 19, 2018

Don't Neglect Your Neck!

Check Your Thyroid for Signs of Trouble

What organ is the size of a lime and sits on the front of your windpipe? If you guessed the thyroid, you would be correct. This butterfly-shaped gland is responsible for sending hormones throughout the body to do the important work of regulating metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. Most likely, you will never notice your thyroid—that is, until there’s a problem. Fortunately, thyroid conditions, including most cancers, are very treatable when caught early. The expert staff at Palos Health is equipped to treat patients with thyroid, parathyroid and other endocrine system disorders using the latest technology and resources.

According to the American Cancer Society, thyroid cancer is the fastest rising cancer in the United States. Palos Health has experts on staff equipped with advanced technology ready to provide optimal treatment.

First Signs of Trouble

In many cases, patients don’t realize their thyroid isn’t functioning properly until they undergo testing for a different, often unrelated, medical issue. That was the case with busy customer service representative and Chicago Ridge resident Linda Ronkowski, who mentioned to her primary doctor that she was feeling “more tired than usual.”

Dr. Rajjoub checking neck of patient

Dr. Rajjoub demonstrates how to perform
a simple neck check at home to detect
thyroid problems.

When someone notices unusual changes in energy levels, the first step is usually a simple blood test, which can help to shed light on any contributing medical issues. In the case of the thyroid, a blood test can determine whether the gland is hypo- (underactive) or hyperthyroid (overactive).

Linda went on to have a thyroid ultrasound at an outside facility, which indicated that she had one large thyroid nodule as well as several smaller ones. “I was immediately worried, especially since my dad was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and had his thyroid removed,” she said.  

Linda was referred to Palos Health endocrine surgeon Samer Rajjoub, M.D. for further evaluation. Dr. Rajjoub reviewed and reinterpreted the findings of Linda’s ultrasound and sent her for a repeat ultrasound at Palos Hospital with specific instructions. Linda remembers this attention to detail very well during the procedure, including how the technician told her that she had received a “very detailed diagram” of where Dr. Rajjoub wanted her to focus the ultrasound.

After Linda’s ultrasound, Dr. Rajjoub joined the technician to help interpret the results. To Linda’s relief, the concerning nodule referred to on the previous ultrasound could not be confirmed. “I still have a few small nodules that we will watch over the next year,” said Linda. “If they remain stable, I will only need to come in for an annual ultrasound. If there are any concerning changes, I may need to have a biopsy in the future.”

Check Your Neck

It’s important to recognize common symptoms that could be related to thyroid nodules. According to Dr. Rajjoub, concerning signs could include a lump in the neck, voice hoarseness and difficulty swallowing.

Your health care provider can perform a neck check if you suspect an issue, but you can also do an easy self-exam at any time by following these steps:

How to Do a Neck Check

  • Hold a mirror in your hand and focus on the lower front area of your neck, above your collarbones and below your voice box.
  • While focusing on this area in the mirror, tip your head back.
  • Take a drink of water and swallow.
  • As you swallow, examine your neck for any bulges or protrusions.

If you do notice any protrusions, see your physician. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or nodule that should be checked to determine if further evaluation is needed.

If your health care provider confirms a lump, the next step is to see an endocrinologist or endocrine surgeon—doctors specifically trained to treat diseases of the endocrine glands. Dr. Rajjoub regularly evaluates patients with thyroid nodules using an ultrasound machine. Although many people are concerned when nodules are discovered, he notes that, “the large majority of thyroid nodules are benign. And of those that are not, most are well-differentiated (low-risk) cancers.”

With thyroid cancer on the rise, Palos Health is equipped to perform accurate and rapid thyroid biopsies, intraoperative nerve monitoring and post-operative surveillance. When it comes to the treatment of parathyroid disease, Palos offers localization with ultrasound, sestamibi and 4D computerized tomography (CT) scans, along with intraoperative parathyroid hormone monitoring to aid in a minimally invasive approach. Dr. Rajjoub is one of the few fellowship-trained endocrine surgeons in the Chicago area, bringing experience and expertise in order to achieve better patient outcomes.

“Sometimes surveillance is preferred over surgery,” explains Dr. Rajjoub. “As with Linda, when a thyroid nodule is discovered, I work closely with patients to discuss treatment options and provide personalized attention. At Palos, we use a multidisciplinary approach that includes endocrinologists, pathologists, radiologists and oncologists to offer coordinated care.”

Back On Track

With early detection, thyroid cancer is often very treatable and in most instances results in little to no disruption of normal activities. In the case of thyroid surgery, patients are typically home within a day and generally can expect to resume their regular routine.

“I’m so glad I was referred to Dr. Rajjoub,” said Linda, “he went above and beyond for me. Hopefully my nodules don’t change, but if they do I know I will receive excellent care from everyone at Palos.”