You can learn how to do your own thyroid exam. This is not the same as a blood test which screens for hormone function. Thyroids are little glands that you can feel to see if they have developed lumps or nodules that may be the first indication of thyroid cancer.
There are several types of cancers that you will be the first to find if you do self exams regularly. Thyroid cancer, breast cancer, and testicular cancer are three cancers that present with little hard lumps or nodules where the patient can feel them when doing a self exam. There is a lot of information on how to do breast self exams, and there is some information for men on how to do testicular exams. Each time you do one of these self exams you should think about doing a thyroid self exam as well.
Lumps on the thyroid gland are actually pretty common. The estimate is greater than 50% of the world’s population have thyroid nodules. This number sounds scary but the actual incidence of cancer is pretty rare accounting for about 2% of cancers in the United States (http://surgery.med.nyu.edu/oncology/patients/thyroid/cancer). If you find a lump, don’t panic but do call your doctor for an appointment to have a definitive diagnosis made.
Here is how to do your own Thyroid examination for lumps or nodules:
Sit or stand in front of a mirror with good lighting on your throat area. Stick your chin out and put your hand on the middle of your throat. You will feel your esophagus as a series of rings of cartilage. Gently work your fingers down the esophageal rings until you find one down near the notch of your collar bone that has a small soft fleshy pad on top of it.
Feel to the left of the middle of the gland and then to the right. The sides should be equal in size, smooth and firm. Place your fingers on the left lobe of the thyroid gland and swallow. The tissue should move upward and then down. Repeat on the right side.
If the lobes are unequal in size or if one or the other feels distorted or extends upward and to the side of your neck it is cause for concern. If you feel any nodules or lumps you should make an appointment with your doctor.