BOSTON — Jessica Burkett is a wife, mother and nurse practitioner. She’s used to taking care of her loved ones and patients. Little did she know the roles would reverse.
"While I was putting on night cream, one night, I noticed that one of my lymph nodes was slightly enlarged." Jessica Burkett said.
Turns out the lymph node that Burkett felt ended up being nothing. But her ultrasound revealed something else. Her scans showed a 1.1 cm nodule in her thyroid.
"The next morning, I just remember being terrified and scared and sorry -- just very overwhelmed,” Burkett said. “Because I knew I had a 2-year-old daughter who needed her mom."
Burkett said she remembers being angry, upset and confused.
“I go to the doctor regularly. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I exercise regularly, and I try to live a healthy lifestyle,” Burkett said. “So, for this to happen with no family history was just completely overwhelming to think why?”
Oncologist Dr. Russell Smith says thyroid cancer is becoming much more prevalent. He said for many people, it can go undetected, because there are usually no symptoms.
"It could go for years and you not know it's there," Dr. Smith said.
He adds that there is no rhyme or reason why this is happening to young women, but the best thing for them to do is:
• Check their neck regularly.
• Talk to their doctor if they notice problems with their voice or have trouble swallowing
"If it does go ignored, they can spread to other parts of the body,” Dr. Smith said.
Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer in women ages 20 to 34. However, it is also one of the most treatable cancers through surgery and medicine. Statistics show 98% of patients survive it.
Burkett is one of them.
"The nodule I felt, the lymph node was on the side of my neck and that was something that Dr. Smith said, 'That was what saved your life,'” Burkett said. “But, you know, it had nothing to do and still has nothing to do with your thyroid cancer, so it was just pure luck."
There are several other cancers targeting young, health people—ages 20 to 39—as well.
• Lymphomas (non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin)
• Sarcomas (cancers of connective tissues like muscles and bones)
• Cervical and Ovarian cancer
• Thyroid cancer
• Testicular cancer
• Colorectal cancer
• Brain and spinal cord tumors
Even within this age group, some of these cancers become more or less common as people age. Doctors say leukemias and lymphomas are more common before age 25, whereas melanoma and breast, cervical and colorectal cancers become more common after age 25.
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