How Sofia Vergara Beat Thyroid Cancer

Routine adherence key to "Modern Family" star's success

Sophia Vergara
Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Image

Long before she became a household name as a star of TV’s "Modern Family," Sofia Vergara was among a league of individuals who were able to beat thyroid cancer. This little-known fact was not much publicized until 2008 when Vergara first began discussing her cancer journey with journalists.

Since then, Vergara has become a vocal advocate for thyroid cancer research and has helped raise awareness about early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Thyroid Cancer 101

Thyroid cancer affects around 60,000 people in the U.S. each year. It develops in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck consisting of two lobes on either side of the trachea

The thyroid is responsible for regulating our metabolism by producing, storing, and releasing hormones in our system. It does this by absorbing iodine from the food we eat and converting it into two of our main hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) thyroxine (T4).

While thyroid cancer has become increasingly common, it is considered treatable with high rates of remission.

Vergara’s Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

Vergara was diagnosed in 2000 at age 28 after a visit to the endocrinologist revealed a concerning lump on her neck. The characteristic lump, known as thyroid nodule, prompted doctors to investigate thyroid cancer.

While most thyroid nodules are known to be benign, a biopsy of Vergara’s provided definitive evidence of cancer.

The doctors were able to do so using a relatively simple biopsy technique called a fine-needle aspiration.

A fine needle aspiration can usually be performed in a doctor's office, most often by a specialist called an otolaryngologist. During the biopsy, a long thin needle is inserted into the nodule for five to ten seconds to remove microscopic tissue samples.

Patients are typically given a local anesthetic and are able to return home right after. Results can be expected anywhere from a few days to two weeks, depending on the lab.

Vergara's Thyroid Cancer Treatment

After her diagnosis. Vergara had to undergo a thyroidectomy as the first course of treatment. A thyroidectomy is considered the standard course for all patients and involves the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland.

The size of the nodule and any evidence of metastasis (the spread of cancer beyond the thyroid) helps determine whether part or all of the thyroid needs to be removed. Even if cancer is found only in one lobe, many doctors still recommend a full thyroidectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence.

According to Vergara, there was still evidence of cancer following to surgery, so it was decided that she undergo a scheduled course of radiation therapy. It is not an uncommon occurrence, and the treatment (called radioactive iodine therapy) is considered the most effective means to eliminate residual cancer cells.

The treatment itself involves taking a pill which contains radioactive iodine that is absorbed into the cancerous cells, killing them. The procedure requires isolation for several days as the person can emit radioactive energy.

Isolation can be done at home or in a hospital, depending on health protocols and municipal, state, and federal laws.

Vergara’s Post-Cancer Advocacy

Following the all-clear sign in 2001, Vergara has remained cancer-free. She continues to get monitored with routine blood tests every three to six months and takes a daily hormone pill to maintain normal thyroid function.

Since 2013, Vergara has served as the face of the “Follow the Script” campaign, national empowerment initiative designed to help raise awareness about the importance of diagnosing and treating hypothyroidism.

Continue Reading