Jeff Angileri
Oct 15, 2008, 9:50 PM

Pregnant with her third child, Anne Marie Nahn Bell felt a lump on the bottom of her neck. After giving birth, she went to a doctor for a biopsy, and was shocked to hear she had thyroid cancer.

I was the mother of a 10-week-old baby, mother of 3 children with no family history, no risk factors, no side effects, she said.

But then her doctor gave her the good news.

Thyroid cancer if caught early enough is often very treatable and often curable, said endocrinologist Dr. Paul Bekx, with the Monroe Clinic.

The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly at the front of the neck. It regulates a person's metabolism. When cancer occurs, most people feel a small lump. Rarely, people will have other symptoms.

Kind of a choking feeling, difficulty swallowing, changes in voice, a tickle in the throat that won't go away or a cough, Dr. Bekx said.

Most patients will undergo surgery.

After the thyroid glad is removed, quite often we will treat with radioactive iodine as a form of chemotherapy to burn out any thyroid cancer that's left behind after surgery, said Dr. Bekx.

You have to go off all your medications, Bell said. So, you feel pretty lousy for a while. And then you have to drink radioactive material which is always kind of scary.

Five years to the day after surgery, Bell is doing well, and welcomed a fourth child to her family.

Most people do really well after thyroid surgery, said Dr. Bekx. They will require a thyroid replacement for the rest of their life. We just have to dose appropriately for what the person's body needs.

It didn't seem right that I was 33 years old with cancer, but I did feel like, the younger, the better, Bell said. If your healthcare provider isn't checking your neck, ask them to do that. If you can catch those cancers early, it's a lot easier to treat.

Doctors still don't know exactly why thyroid cancer occurs. Genetics plays a role for one of the rarer types. If it runs in the family, you can work with your doctor to discuss options. The three more common ones can not be prevented.

If you feel a lump, get it checked by a doctor. Some believe exposure to radiation in childhood is a risk factor for thyroid cancer. Back in the 50's and 60's radiation was used to treat acne and to reduce swelling and fight infection.