A Year in Headlines — 2009
Healthline combed the year's health news for important breakthroughs and discoveries in thyroid health.
Oprah Features Thyroid Health on Her Show (January)
Oprah Winfrey said her most recent weight gain was, in part, due to problems with her thyroid that began in 2007 — an interesting fact given that she suffers from hyperthyroidism, which usually leads to weight loss. Experts contend that it is not uncommon for some people with mild hyperthyroidism to battle weight gain, especially those with excess body fat, which can promote prediabetes, or high blood sugar that isn't quite as severe as full-blown diabetes.
Breakthrough Thyroid Surgery Procedure Eliminates Neck Scars (March)
A new, minimally invasive thyroid surgery now offers those with thyroid tumors relief without neck scars. Using the new robotics-assisted daVinci® Surgical System, surgeons can remove the thyroid gland by making one small incision under the patient's right arm and another tiny incision in the chest.
Drug May Be Dangerous for Kids With Graves' Disease (April)
Two experts — Dr. Scott A. Rivkees, of Yale University Medical School, and Dr. Donald R. Mattison, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development — wrote a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, warning that PTU can cause severe liver disease in children and should no longer be used as a first-line treatment for children with Graves' disease, a disorder in which the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormone than the body needs. The Endocrine Society endorsed the recommendation.
Underactive Thyroid Linked to Liver Cancer Risk (May)
Researchers confirmed that long-term hypothyroidism may nearly triple the risk of developing liver cancer. The association is independent of established hepatocellular carcinoma risk factors, but significant only among women. In the May issue of Hepatology, the researchers wrote that the findings shouldn't be surprising, as hypothyroidism has been linked to chronic liver diseases.
TSH Levels Increase with Age (June)
A 2009 study by Dr. Martin Surks revealed that as people get older, the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) increases. A high level of TSH is usually a sign of an underactive thyroid, and patients who experience this are often treated with thyroid hormone. Several studies have suggested that mild elevations in people younger than 65 years old are associated with heart disease and may be a reason to treat these people with thyroid hormone. According to Surks' study, this does not seem to be true in older people. This study suggests that a higher TSH may be normal in very old people and provides a reason not to routinely treat these individuals for hypothyroidism.
Increase in Thyroid Cancer Puzzles Experts (July)
There has been an uptick in thyroid cancers since 1980, a phenomenon that, up until now, has been attributed to better technology in screening procedures, including ultrasound and image-guided biopsy. However, a study, published in the journal Cancer, found that thyroid tumors of all sizes are being picked up, not just the smaller ones that more aggressive screening would be expected to detect.
JFK Likely Suffered from Hypothyroidism (September)
Dr. Lee Mandel, senior medical officer aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush, announced in Annals of Internal Medicine that John F. Kennedy suffered from autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome, a rare disorder that can lead to hypothyroidism and other glandular diseases. Mandel, a specialist in internal medicine and an amateur historian, based his findings on abundant medical records now open to the public and stated that Kennedy had more medical issues than most people were aware of.
Thyroid Surgery Safe in People over 65 (October)
A new study, published in Archives of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery, found that thyroid surgery does not cause more complications in people over 65, versus younger patients. With an aging population, the need for thyroid surgery in older patients is on the rise. The study's authors hope the findings will decrease concerns about the safety of thyroidectomies among this large group.
Thyroid Cancer Risk Increases after Childhood Cancer (October)
British researchers found that patients treated with radiation therapy for childhood cancer had a greater than fourfold increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, discovered childhood cancer survivors are 18 times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than members of the general population.
Thyroid Patients who are Breastfeeding Can Pass Iodine through Breast Milk (November)
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has found that breastfeeding women with excessive iodine intake from thyroid treatment can pass significant amounts of iodine to her infant, which can damage the child's thyroid.
Rockefeller Center Display Reminds People to "Check Your Neck" for Thyroid Cancer (November)
For the entire month of November, a window display at Rockefeller Center reminded Americans to "Check Your Neck" for thyroid cancer. The display featured images from the Light of Life Foundation's public awareness campaign. In a press release, the Light of Life Foundation president and founder Joan Shey, said: "Awareness is the key to early diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer. It's appropriate that, as we head into winter and begin to wrap our wool scarves around our necks, we think about checking that vital organ that keeps our bodies regulated."
Possible Link between Pregnancy Complication and Thyroid Problems (November)
New research indicates that pregnant women who develop preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, are at a higher risk for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) later in life.
Drug Used for Thyroid Cancer Treatment is Contaminated (November)
In November, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they found small particles of steel, rubber, and fiber in several products produced by Genzyme Corporation, including the thyroid drug Thyrogen. The foreign particles were believed to be in less than 1% of the products, but the FDA reported that this contamination could cause serious health effects for patients. The FDA is not issuing a recall of the drug, citing that there are few alternatives on the market. However, it did make recommendations to practitioners, including discussing with patients and families the risks of contamination, visually inspecting the vials of drugs, and monitoring for allergic reactions after administration.