Thyroid cancer diagnosis has an odd reputation. It is cancer, but has a near 100% survival rate when caught in one of the early stages. Most doctors and patients categorize it as one of the “good cancers”
The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones essential to bodily function.
Survival isn’t the entire story for thyroid cancer patients.
However recent developments lead experts to believe that this is a wrong categorization. Focusing on the cancer’s excellent survival rate eclipses the hardships patients go through in their treatment and lifelong maintenance of the disease.
Like all cancers, there isn’t just one type of thyroid cancer, which means there isn’t one type of cure. Treatment can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. None of these therapies are easy. Surgery has low risks of bleeding, infection and nerve damage. Radiation can mess with thyroid hormone levels. Chemotherapy has a large set of serious side effects.
Surviving thyroid cancer means actually living with the cancer for the entirety of one’s life. That includes frequent scans and screenings, daily medications that need to be monitored and a fear and anxiety that the cancer may return.
Recurrence can happen in about 10-30% of thyroid cancer patients and can occur 10 to 20 year after treatment.
One treatment is to completely remove the thyroid. In order to replace the necessary hormones, survivors need to be on lifetime thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which is usually a daily pill. Some doctors prescribe higher than usual levels of the hormone replacement in order to keep cancer at bay. Unfortunately some side effects are osteoporosis or even cardiac arrhythmia.
All together, the hardships of surviving and deal with thyroid cancer are significant.
A more balanced view of categorizing cancers is that there are many other malignancies that have much worse outcomes in terms of survival, but all cancers has associated with them their own costs with regards to the treatments.