How Actress Sofia Vergara Survived Thyroid Cancer

The "Modern Family" star overcame the disease before fame

Sophia Vergara
Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Image

Before she became a household name after her star-making turn on "Modern Family," Sofia Vergara managed to beat thyroid cancer. This fact remains unknown to much of the public, although Vergara has discussed surviving the ordeal during television appearances and raises awareness about thyroid cancer, a type of cancer that affects about 60,000 people in the United States each year. Vergara received a diagnosis in 2000.

 

While thyroid cancer has become increasingly common, it is considered treatable and curable in most cases. It affects the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck. It consists of two lobes that are found on either side of the trachea. The thyroid is responsible for regulating our metabolism by producing specific hormones.

Unlike other celebrities, Vergara did not publicize her cancer diagnosis. In fact, it wasn't revealed until she did an interview with Health.com eight years later. In the interview, she spoke about her choice to remain silent about her diagnosis, "You don't want to deal with anything else while you're going through it."

How Sofia Vergara was Diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer

Vergara was diagnosed at age 28 after a visit to the endocrinologist led to the discovery of a lump on her neck. Locating a lump, or thyroid nodule, usually, prompts doctors to suspect thyroid cancer.

While most thyroid nodules are benign, they must be investigated to determine if they are cancerous. The most efficient and accurate means of determining the status of a nodule is to biopsy it. When doctors take a biopsy of the thyroid gland, it is called a fine-needle aspiration of the thyroid. It is likely Sofia Vergara underwent this type of biopsy when being diagnosed with the disease.

A fine needle aspiration of the thyroid sounds much more complex that it is. In fact, in most cases, it is completed in a doctor's office (often an otolaryngologist) and patients can usually drive home afterward. During the biopsy, a long thin needle is inserted into the nodule for 5 to 10 seconds to remove microscopic tissue samples. Most patients are given a local anesthetic prior to the procedure to help minimize pain and discomfort. Results can be expected within a few days to two weeks, depending on the laboratory.

Sofia Vergara's Thyroid Cancer Treatment

According to reports, Sofia had a thyroidectomy as treatment. A thyroidectomy is the surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland. Surgery is the standard course of treatment for patients. The size of the nodule and evidence of metastasis discovered during surgery usually determines whether part or all of the thyroid will be removed. Even if cancer is found only in one lobe of the thyroid, many doctors will recommend a full thyroidectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence.

In the 2000 Health.com interview, Vergara said cancer still remained after surgery, and she had to undergo radioactive treatment. It is not uncommon for residual cancer cells to remain after surgery. Radioactive iodine therapy is the most effective treatment to eliminate residual cancer cells. The treatment involves taking a pill that contains radioactive iodine. Thyroid cells absorb iodine in the body. When they absorb the radioactive iodine, the cells die.

The treatment involves isolation for a few days because patients emit radioactive energy after they ingest the pill. Isolation can be done at home or in the hospital; it varies based on hospital and state and country health laws.

Continue Reading