Know the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer

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Cases of thyroid cancer have tripled in the last 30 years, and women are diagnosed with it three times more often than men. (KABC)

Cases of thyroid cancer have tripled in the last 30 years, and women are diagnosed with it three times more often than men.

For Laura Bruser, who is a nurse practitioner, the lump behind her ear was enough to get her attention.

"I went to an ENT doctor. He did a CT scan," Bruser said. "Turns out I had nothing here, but then they found a nodule on my thyroid."

First, she had to process the fact that it was cancer. The next tough hurdle she faced was explaining it to her 8-year-old son. "He just looked at me and said, 'Mommy, are you going to lose your hair?' And I said, 'No, I'm not honey. It's not that kind of cancer," Bruser said.

Bruser is among a growing number of women diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which has tripled over the last 3 decades.

She sought out a doctor who is one of the most experienced thyroid surgeons.

Dr. Gary Clayman is the founder of the Clayman Thyroid Cancer Center in Tampa Florida, and has performed more than 400 thyroid cancer operations over the last 20 years.

"If you're a woman and you live long enough, you will develop thyroid nodules. Not necessarily thyroid cancer, because most thyroid nodules are not cancerous," said Clayman.

The American Cancer Society reports that women are diagnosed three times more often than men.

Bruser said, "They took out my whole thyroid. I had three nodules and they took out 22 lymph nodes as well."

While it's unknown why cases are increasing among women, Clayman says most thyroid cancers don't need to be treated right away because they're not life-threatening. And he has a word of caution. "Ninety to 95 percent of thyroid surgeries are performed in the country by highly inexperienced thyroid surgeons."

Bruser's symptoms were feeling pain in her neck and she also had some trouble breathing.

"I was having problems swallowing and I was having horrible sleep issues," Bruser added.

Other signs or symptoms can include hoarseness that doesn't go away or a constant cough that doesn't seem to get better.

Just days after her surgery, Bruser participated in a fundraising walk with her husband and son.

She said, "We did that as a family, seven days after, so that felt great."

It's important to keep in mind, that while many of these symptoms could be caused by something benign, it's important to talk to your doctor about any unusual hoarseness, coughing or pain that you feel.
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