By Pat Carragher - August 27, 2021
Actor Sofia Vergara shared new details about her thyroid cancer diagnosis from more than 20 years ago. The ‘Modern Family’ star co-hosted a recent Stand Up To Cancer telecast, telling viewers that doctors discovered a lump in her neck during a routine checkup when she was 28. Vergara, now 49, said she was surprised to later learn that she had thyroid cancer.
"When you're young and you hear that word, 'cancer,' your mind goes to so many places," Vergara said. "But I tried not to panic, and I decided to get educated. I read every book and found out everything I could about it."
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 44,000 Americans will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year. Dr. Julie Hallanger-Johnson, chair of Moffit Cancer Center’s Endocrinology Oncology Program, says it is commonly diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers.
“Thyroid nodules are very common, occurring in half of the population,” said Hallanger-Johnson. “Eighty-five to 95 percent of the time, they are benign, non-cancerous. Fortunately, most thyroid cancers are found in the early stages, and are treated well with surgery alone.”
Vergara didn't make her diagnosis public until 2011. In an interview with Health Magazine, she said she didn't want any attention while she was being treated for the disease. After undergoing surgery to remove her thyroid gland, Vergara also had some radiation and now takes a thyroid hormone pill every day.
"I feel very lucky," Vergara said.
According to Hallanger-Johnson, women are three times more likely to develop the disease than men. This disparity is likely due to multiple factors.
“Thyroid dysfunction is commonly related to autoimmune processes, such as lymphocytic thyroiditis or Grave’s disease,” said Hallanger-Johnson. “Autoimmune diseases are more common in women, so thyroid dysfunction is more common in women. Autoimmune thyroid disease can raise the risk for thyroid cancer slightly when compared to people without autoimmune thyroid disease. Another potential issue is overdiagnosis. Women see their OB/GYN who palpates a nodule and then leads them on the path of a workup, which is very appropriate. When an ultrasound is arranged for any other reason than a palpable thyroid nodule, we are going to find incidental thyroid nodules in more than 50% of patients. Many tiny nodules may not lead to a problem during the patient’s lifetime, but are often closely monitored over time.”
The American Cancer Society says most thyroid cancers are now found much sooner than in the past and can be treated successfully. Vergara credited early detection for helping her overcome the disease.
"I was fortunate to have caught it early and to have the support of my doctors and most importantly, my family," Vergara said during the Stand Up To Cancer event. "I learned a lot during that time, not just about thyroid cancer but I also learned that in times of crisis, we're better together and if we're going to end cancer, it's going to require a team effort."