Demi, 22, discussed her diagnosis on Tuesday’s (25 May) episode of Good Morning Britain, where she said: “Apparently thyroid cancer’s really slow growing and [the doctor] reckons I’ve had it for years and years and didn’t know.”
Demi’s tumour has now been removed, but she’s due to have more surgery to remove the rest of her thyroid.
But what is thyroid cancer, what are the signs and symptoms and how is it treated?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, which is a small gland at the base of the neck that produces hormones.
The NHS says it is most common in people in their 30s and those over the age of 60, with women being two to three times more likely to develop it than men.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include:
- a painless lump or swelling in the front of the neck – although only 1 in 20 neck lumps are cancer
- swollen glands in the neck
- unexplained hoarseness that does not get better after a few weeks
- a sore throat that does not get better
- difficulty swallowing
When should you see your GP?
The NHS says you should see a GP if you have symptoms of thyroid cancer. However, the symptoms may be caused by less serious conditions, such as an enlarged thyroid, so it's important to get them checked.
A GP will examine your neck and can organise a blood test to check how well your thyroid is working.
If they think you could have cancer or are not sure what's causing your symptoms, you will then be referred to a hospital specialist for more tests.
Causes of thyroid cancer
“Thyroid cancer happens when there's a change to the DNA inside thyroid cells which causes them to grow uncontrollably and produce a lump,” says the NHS.
It's not usually clear what causes this change, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:
- other thyroid conditions, such as an inflamed thyroid (thyroiditis) or goitre – but not an overactive thyroid or underactive thyroid
- a family history of thyroid cancer – your risk is higher if a close relative has had thyroid cancer
- radiation exposure in childhood – such as radiotherapy
- a bowel condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- acromegaly – a rare condition where the body produces too much growth hormone
What is the treatment for thyroid cancer?
The NHS website says: “Thyroid cancer is usually treatable and in many cases can be cured completely, although it can sometimes come back after treatment.”
Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how far it has spread.
The main treatments are:
- surgery – to remove part or all of the thyroid
- radioactive iodine treatment – you swallow a radioactive substance that travels through your blood and kills the cancer cells
- external radiotherapy – a machine is used to direct beams of radiation at the cancer cells to kill them
- chemotherapy and targeted therapies – medicines used to kill cancer cells
After treatment, you'll have follow-up appointments to check whether the cancer has come back.