(BUENOS AIRES, Argentina) — After doctors removed her thyroid gland due to an initial cancer diagnosis, test results revealed Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, didn’t have cancer after all.
Her spokesman, Alfredo Scoccimarro, said she doesn’t need to take any radioactive iodine, something commonly prescribed after thyroidectomy to kill any residual cancer cells. She will, however, have to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of her life. Iodine is used in patients with papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Endocrinologists not involved in the president’s treatment told ABC News her situation is more the exception than the rule.
“These are called false positive cases, and they do happen, but they are the minority of cases,” said Dr. Antonio C. Bianco, professor and chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
What generally happens, he said, is during a routine physical examination, a doctor or other health-care provider will examine a person’s neck and check for lumps, also known as nodules.
“If there is a nodule, the person will then go for an ultrasound to determine how big it is,” Bianco said. “If it’s more than 1.5 cm. long, then it will be biopsied.”
The biopsy involves inserting a small needle and removing cells from the lump. A pathologist will then examine the cells and determine whether there is cancer present.
Depending on the type of thyroid cancer, radioactive iodine may also be necessary. Once the gland is removed and iodine treatment is complete, the cancer typically is gone.
But removing the entire thyroid requires a person to be on thyroid replacement hormones for life, since those hormones are essential for maintaining the body’s metabolism.
“If you take the hormone tablet, most people will live just fine — about 85 percent of people do well,” Bianco said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN