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(Memphis) Something to think about the next time you go for your annual physical exam: your thyroid.

A Memphis woman says she was probably walking around for 30 years with thyroid cancer and had no idea because blood work didn’t find it.

“I had tender lymph nodes under my chin for the last 30 years and I just didn’t pay any attention to it,” Alice Ruthven said.

Ruthven says tender lymph nodes and fatigue were her only symptoms and blood tests always came back that she was cancer free. She says it was a doctor’s hands last September that detected something that blood work could not.

“He palpated my neck and told me my thyroid was enlarged,” she said. “He was concerned and did an ultrasound on the spot.”

She says four tumors, likely growing since her 20s, had attached to her esophagus and lymph nodes, and wrapped around her vocal chords.

“They were malignant and very, very advanced by the time I found it,” Ruthven said.

Ruthven says she believes the tumors could have been stopped early if she had known.

“It is true, blood tests don’t always pick-up thyroid cancer.  Frequently, they don’t,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkaeld with Baptist Hospital

Dr. Threlkaeld says slow-growing thyroid cancer like Ruthven’s is often less deadly but definitely detectable, and worth detecting, by a doctor.

“They will feel for those nodules and they might feel something that a blood test would not,” Threlkaeld said.

As for Ruthven, she doesn’t know how she got thyroid cancer but since it’s been removed, she says she has more energy than she’s had in decade.

“I feel like it’s it the entire grace of God,” she said. “That’s what I feel like.”

The doctor recommends as part of your yearly physical exam that you make sure the physician checks your thyroid for any lumps or abnormalities as part of the normal routine.