Early detection and appropriate iodine intake are the best ways to prevent thyroid dysfunctions, according to doctors.

The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is located in front of the windpipe. It may be small, but its function does a lot for the human body. The thyroid gland is responsible for the release of hormones that control the body's metabolism and temperature.

Unfortunately, thyroid function disorders are considered common among Filipinos, with roughly one in 10 suffering from such disorder.

Goiter, the enlargement of the thyroid gland, causes the neck to appear swollen. It affects 8.9 percent of Filipinos, while thyroid function disorders affect 8.53 percent, according to a 2012 Philippine Thyroid Diseases Study (PhilTiDes).

Thyroid cancer, the more serious of the disorders, is the 7th leading cancer in the country.

"[Thyroid cancer] is quite curable, if detected early. That's why we are campaigning for people to get treated early, so that we won't talk about complications," Dr Sjoberg Kho told MIMS. The medical specialist is the Chief of Section - Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, of the University of Santo Tomas.

Dr Kho was main speaker at the Thyroid Awareness Month celebration, held at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in September.

Severe complications can occur, the physician explained, if cancer cells metastasize and among these are paralysis if the spine is affected, and problems in the lungs and liver if the cancerous cells settle in these organs.

Anyone with risk factors - such as those with a family history, females, teenagers - should be routinely palpated, he said, referring to a 'self-check' as a way of checking lumps in the neck through palpation.

Another method of self-checking, according to the Department of Health, is through observation. A person should stand in front of a mirror while holding a glass of water then take sips of water while observing the neck, checking for any lumps moving up and down while sipping water.

"There is no warning sign," Dr Kho said. Most thyroid cancers are found 'incidentally'. "We see a lot of thyroid cancers that are incidentally found, such as in pre-employment [medical] exams, there happens to be a lump. That's why we have to look for it [lumps], because we may not feel any symptom."

Health Undersecretary for Disease Prevention, Dr Maria Francia Laxamana, said there is an estimated 2,600 Filipinos with thyroid problems among the 15 to 24 age group and the condition is three times more frequent among women.

The 8th National Nutrition Survey (NNS) noted that people from 13 provinces suffer from iodine deficiency, which contributes to the development of thyroid problems in children aged 6 to 12. It likewise affects vulnerable populations - 33.6 percent of the elderly and 34.3 percent of lactating women, and 27 percent of pregnant women.

"The number one prevent is really nutrition," the Health official stressed, adding that iodine helps in the production of the thyroid hormone. It is not manufactured within the body, but is found in seafoods."

Dr Laxamana, meanwhile, called on healthcare professionals to dispel any misconceptions associated with thyroid issues, citing as example when people in rural areas think a mass in the neck is a result of witchcraft, when in fact it is a health condition.

"We are lacking in health literacy and messages. In the province, people see a mass [in the neck] and they call it kulam [witchcraft]. That is why we have to tell them this is not witchcraft, that it has a medical implication." she reminded health professionals. MIMS

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