What you can learn from Jared Kushner's journey with thyroid cancer

·5 min read
Jared Kushner, pictured here in 2020, reveals in his new book that in 2019, while working as a senior advisor for his father-in-law, former President Donald Trump, he was treated for thyroid cancer.
Jared Kushner, pictured here in 2020, reveals in his new book that in 2019, while working as a senior advisor for his father-in-law, former President Donald Trump, he was treated for thyroid cancer.

Among the notable revelations in Jared Kushner’s new book, "Breaking History: A White House Memoir," is that in 2019, while working as a senior advisor for his father-in-law, former President Donald Trump, he was treated for thyroid cancer.

"On the morning that I traveled to Texas to attend the opening of a Louis Vuitton factory, White House physician Sean Conley pulled me into the medical cabin on Air Force One," writes Kushner. "'Your test results came back from Walter Reed,' he said. 'It looks like you have cancer. We need to schedule a surgery right away.'"

In recounting being told about his diagnosis, he initially asked Conley not to say anything to his wife Ivanka or President Trump.

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While the disease was caught early, Kushner, who now lives in Miami with his wife and their three children, noted that the surgery to remove the cancerous growth also would necessitate excising a "substantial part of my thyroid."

The major risk with such procedures, he was warned, is that if nerves are affected, there could be long-term damage to his voice.

Before the surgery, which he had the week before Thanksgiving, he writes that he busied himself with work so as "not to think about the upcoming surgery or the unwanted growth in my body. When I did think about it, I reminded myself that it was in the hands of God and the doctors, and that whatever happened was out of my control. At moments, I caught myself wondering whether I would need extensive treatment."

Kushner and family in 2017. In his memoir, he reports that he kept his condition secret while he was being treated and recovering.
Kushner and family in 2017. In his memoir, he reports that he kept his condition secret while he was being treated and recovering.

In revealing his journey with thyroid cancer, Kushner has helped raise awareness about a disease that some 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with in 2022.

Understanding the thyroid gland

Located at the front of the neck under the voice box, the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that features two side lobes that lie against and around the windpipe, and are connected at the front by a narrow strip of tissue.

According to the National Institutes of Health it “is a vital hormone gland... [playing] a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. It helps to regulate many body functions by constantly releasing a steady amount of thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.”

The American Cancer Society says that women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Cleveland Clinic Weston head and neck surgeon Dr. Gilberto Alemar.
Cleveland Clinic Weston head and neck surgeon Dr. Gilberto Alemar.

"We're not sure why this is," says Cleveland Clinic Weston head and neck surgeon Dr. Gilberto Alemar.

Thyroid cancer

A lump or nodule in the neck or throat is usually the most visible symptom of thyroid cancer — but other symptoms can include hoarseness and other changes in one's voice, as well as trouble swallowing and pain in the neck and throat, and/or a persistent cough unrelated to any lingering illness.

Or, confoundingly for both doctors and patients, there may be no symptoms at all. What’s more, the thyroid usually functions properly even when cancerous.

In recent decades, thyroid cancer diagnoses have risen dramatically — tripling over the past 30 years. The ACS calls it "the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S."

The good news, though, is that the vast majority of cases present as a slow-growing, localized tumor.

“The most common type of thyroid cancer, papillary thyroid cancer, usually presents as a painless lump in the neck or can be found accidentally on imaging for another problem,” said Dr. Caitlin McMullen, a surgeon in the Department of Head & Neck-Endocrine Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. “Fortunately, papillary thyroid cancer has a very good prognosis. Most patients are successfully treated with surgery alone.”

Dr. Caitlin McMullen, a surgeon in the Department of Head & Neck-Endocrine Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center
Dr. Caitlin McMullen, a surgeon in the Department of Head & Neck-Endocrine Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center

When localized in just the thyroid — which around two-thirds of thyroid cancer diagnoses are — the five-year survival rate for both women and men is 99%.

And even when the disease has spread to the lymph nodes and surrounding tissue, the five-year survival rate is around 98%.

(However, one rare form of thyroid cancer — diagnosed in fewer than 2% of patients and usually in people 60 and older — is much more aggressive, and thus often more fatal. This rare aggressive form of thyroid cancer is what Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist died of in 2005 at age 80.)

After surgical excision of the tumor, affected lymph nodes and part or all of the thyroid gland, post-op pathology determines what stage and type of cancer the patient has — and if radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment is needed.

Patients receiving RAI may need to be hospitalized in quarantine for a few days because their bodies remain will remain radioactive after the treatment.

If part of the thyroid gland is spared, then there’s a chance it may still function properly. But if the thyroid is fully removed, or the remaining part is compromised in its function, patients will need to take synthetic thyroid hormone medication for the rest of their lives.

Around 30% of thyroid cancer patients require synthetic hormone medication.

Thyroid cancer survivors also need to monitor their thyroid hormone level regularly. And, because they’re cancer survivors, they’ll need to be vigilant about undergoing all of their other cancer screenings.

Nevertheless, recovery from thyroid gland cancer is relatively quick. In most cases, notes Cleveland Clinic’s Alemar, patients are back to most of their normal activities within a couple of weeks.

"If you have to be diagnosed with cancer, most of the time thyroid cancer is among the ‘best’ kind to have," says Alemar.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Jared Kushner's book: Trump's son-in-law talks about thyroid cancer