Scott Thompson, Ousted Yahoo CEO, Has Thyroid Cancer

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Scott Thompson, the former Yahoo CEO who resigned this past weekend when questions arose about inaccuracies in his resume, may have actually resigned because he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the 54-year-old reportedly told the Yahoo Board of Directors about the cancer diagnosis, but did not want that information to become public.

Thompson had taken over the CEO position in January after the board ousted CEO Carol Bartz. Recently he came under fire when Daniel Loeb, the CEO of hedge fund Third Point, had written a letter to the Yahoo board pointing out that Thompson had embellished his academic credentials on his resume. Thompson’s resume claimed that he had degrees in both Accounting and Computer Science, but Loeb’s  investigation found that only the degree in Accounting was accurate.

What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone. It makes hormones that regulate regulates heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. The thyroid gland contains mainly 2 types of cells — thyroid follicular cells and C cells (also called parafollicular cells).

The follicular cells use iodine from the blood to make thyroid hormone, which helps regulate a person’s metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone (a condition called hyperthyroidism) can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat, trouble sleeping, nervousness, hunger, weight loss, and a feeling of being too warm. Too little hormone (called hypothyroidism) causes a person to slow down, feel tired, and gain weight.

C cells (parafollicular cells) make calcitonin, a hormone that helps regulate how the body uses calcium.

Source: NCI

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a tumor that arises from one of the different cells types in the thyroid. It includes:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer: In the US, this makes up about 80% of all thyroid cancers. It begins in follicular cells and grows slowly. If diagnosed early, most people with papillary thyroid cancer can be cured.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer: This type makes up about 15% of thyroid cancers. It also starts in follicular cells and grows slowly. Like papillary cancer, most people with follicular thyroid cancer can be treated successfully if caught early.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer: This type makes up about 3% of thyroid cancers. It begins in the C cells of the thyroid. Cancer that starts in the C cells can make abnormally high levels of calcitonin. Medullary thyroid cancer tends to grow slowly. It can be easier to control if it’s found and treated before it spreads to other parts of the body.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This type makes up about 2% of all thyroid cancers. It begins in the follicular cells of the thyroid. The cancer cells tend to grow and spread very quickly. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is very hard to control.

Who is at risk of getting thyroid cancer?

Anyone can get cancer of the thyroid gland. But certain factors may increase the risk. These include

  • Being between ages 25 and 65
  • Being a woman
  • Being Asian
  • Having a family member who has had thyroid disease
  • Having radiation treatments to your head or neck

What are the symptoms?

  • A lump in the front of the neck
  • Hoarseness or voice changes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Pain in the throat or neck that does not go away

How big is the problem, and what is the prognosis?

In 2012, an estimated 56,460 adults  in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It is estimated that 1,780 deaths  from this disease will occur this year.

Thyroid cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women.

The five-year relative survival rate (the percentage of people who survive at least five years after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases) for all stages of thyroid cancer is about 97%.

The five-year relative survival rate of papillary and follicular thyroid cancers range from 97% to 100% for early-stage cancer and decrease with later-stage cancer. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is associated with a much lower survival rate.

For more information:

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Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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