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Celebrities Increase Thyroid Cancer Awareness
More awareness of thyroid cancer means more research dollars and better treatments. Find out how which celebrities are leading the charge.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When it comes to raising awareness, few people can have the impact of celebrities. Whether on TV shows, in magazines, or through the Web, celebrities seem to always grab our attention. And when celebrities from all different backgrounds announce their thyroid cancer diagnosis, the public learns more about what used to be considered a rare cancer.
Among the well-known people with thyroid cancer are superstar singer Rod Stewart and movie critic Roger Ebert. Both the late actor Richard Crenna and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist had thyroid cancer, though when Crenna died in 2003 it was actually from complications of pancreatic cancer.
"Certainly any time [celebrities] are receiving media coverage for an illness, that raises the visibility of the disorder," says Bethesda, Md.-based Charlotte "Cherry" Wunderlich, director of outreach and publications for ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association.
"When I was diagnosed, thyroid cancer was referred to as a rare cancer, and was considered extremely rare," says Wunderlich, adding that the number of individuals diagnosed is on the rise. “Chief Justice Rehnquist's illness made people extremely aware of how aggressive thyroid cancer can be."
The message celebrities can advance is not only awareness of the disease itself and the understanding of what can happen in cases of aggressive thyroid cancer, but also that many people with thyroid cancer, like Rod Stewart, can survive and thrive.
Thyroid Cancer and the Celebrity Factor
What does this celebrity awareness mean for people who have thyroid cancer and those who work hard to defeat it? When celebrities go public with their thyroid cancer diagnosis, it can help the public understand the wide variation between prognoses for the disease.
"People were often told that thyroid cancer was the ‘good’ cancer, but there are rare types that are extremely aggressive and difficult to treat," says Wunderlich. "There's a huge message of hope that usually thyroid cancer can be treated, but not always."
When actresses, athletes, and other celebrities lend their names and their faces to promote greater thyroid cancer awareness, it makes people stop and think about thyroid cancer — what their risk is and what they can do to catch it early. This awareness is especially helpful because many people may not even know that they have a one-ounce thyroid gland in the front of their neck.
Promoting Thyroid Cancer Awareness
One of the major goals of ThyCa, says Wunderlich, is to promote "neck checks" to diagnose thyroid cancer very early. It's a quick, simple, and inexpensive way to look for thyroid cancer that doesn't involve any special equipment.
Greater awareness of diseases like cancer, including thyroid cancer, translates to education about that disease. Learning more about thyroid cancer means knowing more about thyroid cancer symptoms, how the cancer diagnosis is made, and the latest treatments to address it. Cancer awareness also results in more funding for research to find a cure because as more people become aware of the illness, the more they are encouraged to donate to the cause.
"There really is a need for a lot more research on thyroid cancer — we've already seen the dramatic advances in research that have saved lives with other types of cancers," says Wunderlich.
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