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Tipper Gore Has Suspicious Thyroid Growth Removed

Doctors Say It's Not Cancerous

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Updated December 03, 2003

by Mary J. Shomon

December 30, 1999 -- Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, had a growth removed from her thyroid gland on Tuesday, December 28 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She was released from the hospital on Wednesday to recuperate at home with her family.

The growth on Gore's thyroid was discovered during treatment for an unrelated injury. Gore's course of treatment has followed standard protocols for thyroid nodule evaluation. The growth was surgically removed in a procedure known as a "right lobectomy" (removal of the right lobe of the thyroid) only after a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy of the nodule was conducted.

In the majority of cases, an FNA can rule out or help diagnose a cancerous condition. According to a statement released by the office of the Vice President, Gore's surgeon Dr. Robert Udelsman stated that "earlier diagnostic studies ... were performed and were inconclusive." When FNA results are inconclusive or suspicious, a "precautionary" removal of all or part of the thyroid -- such as the lobectomy performed on Gore -- are recommended.

The growth was analyzed, and while testing for thyroid cancer was earlier estimated to take about a week, the results were received Thursday indicating that the growth is not cancerous. Had the growth been cancerous, depending on the type of thyroid cancer and whether the cancer has spread outside the thyroid area, the next step would likely have been full removal of the thyroid, followed by a course of radioactive iodine therapy.

What Gore has, according to her surgeon, is 'follicular adenoma'' of the thyroid gland, a benign tumor. Because the surgery left Mrs. Gore with the left lobe of her thyroid, her doctors are indicating that she is not likely to need thyroid hormone treatment, however her thyroid hormone levels will need to be monitored carefully for signs of hormone deficiency. News coverage is conflicting, however, as some sources are reporting that Gore will need supplemental thyroid hormone replacement treatment.

Gore, 51, claims to have had no symptoms of thyroid disease. Earlier this year, however, she publicly disclosed a battle with clinical depression. [link url=http://thyroid.about.com/library/weekly/aa110599.htm]Depression is considered a common symptom of thyroid disease, and frequently, underlying thyroid disorders are overlooked when depression is the only presenting symptom. She has also talked publicly about her battle to maintain a healthy weight, and her personal difficulties losing weight. [link url=http://thyroid.about.com/library/weekly/aa101199.htm]Weight gain and difficulty losing weight are considered quite common symptoms of undiagnosed or undertreated thyroid disease.

Thyroid Nodules & Growths -- Fast Facts
  • Thyroid nodules are very common, and up to one half of people have them. They are more common in women than in men.
  • 95 percent of all thyroid nodules are NOT cancerous.
  • Of nodules deemed "suspicious" and surgically removed, only 20 percent turn out to be cancerous.
  • Thyroid cancer itself is rare, diagnosed in approximately 18,000 people each year in the U.S.
  • The majority of thyroid cancer sufferers -- more than 13,000 -- are women. Most forms of thyroid cancer are considered highly treatable.
  • Nodules sometimes develop in thyroid glands that suffer a common autoimmune condition known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
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