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Myth-Busting: The Good Cancer . We’re Talking About Thyroid Cancer

Post Published: 29 March 2010
Author:
Category: Guest Bloggers, Myths About Thyroid Cancer
This post currently has 38 responses. Leave a comment

Often one hears that thyroid cancer is the so-called,   “good”  cancer.  Is that true? Is there a,   “good”  cancer?  Can it be? Well, I want to say a few words about this myth.

First off, let’s define what cancer is. According to Answers.com:

“Cancer is not just one disease, but a large group of almost one hundred diseases. Its two main characteristics are uncontrolled growth of the cells in the human body and the ability of these cells to migrate from the original site and spread to distant sites. If the spread is not controlled, cancer can result in death…

That is certainly not,   “good”   No cancer is ever,   “good”

There are,  several types of thyroid cancers. One, the,  anaplastic carcinoma, though,   rare, is also very aggressive and quite deadly.   80% of all patients with this kind of thyroid cancer do not survive for more than one year. Making the situation worse, at least according to Drugnews.net, is the fact that their have been several Januvia thyroid cancer cases reportedly popping up. Apparently it is true, some medicines can help just as much as they can hurt.

Yikes!,   That definitely and absolutely is not,   “good”

The other common types of thyroid cancer are: follicular carcinoma (30% of cases), medullary carcinoma is a cancer that often runs in families, and then there is papillary carcinoma which is, by far,   the most common of all thyroid cancers.   I had a papillary carcinoma.

But all thyroid cancers can spread,   to other parts of the body (or,  metastasize). Usually first to one or more of the,  lymph nodes; but they can also wander off (though rarely) to other parts of the body. These cancers also can kill you.

That doesn’t sound,   “good”  to me!

To fight thyroid cancer one usually has the thyroid surgically removed. It is a major operation, the whole works, with full anesthesia, OR (that’s “Operating Room” not my lovely home-state of Oregon).  Thyroidectomy it is called.

Major surgery, hmm, doesn’t feel too,   “good”  to me!

After your thyroid is removed, there needs to be a mop-up job.   Any remnant thyroid cells in your body need to be hunted down and destroyed. This is where,  RAI treatment comes in, it stands for “Radio-active Iodine” – How does this work? Well, thyroid cells really, really love iodine, they suck it up like candy (Yet, other cells in the body do not absorb the iodine). So, if you make the iodine strongly radioactive (that is something cells cannot stand), those cells die.

And to make those cells really go crazy about iodine, the doctors put you onto a “low iodine diet” for a few weeks. Oh, what fun it was!  I hated that diet. Wrote about it in a previous post of mine. See: The Thing With The Fish Cravings.

Getting back to the topic: so they give you a strongly radioactive capsule, and either they lock you up in a lead-lined hospital room, or they send you home, sequestered to an isolated room in your house, for about 5 days. – Even your used underwear will be declared “radioactive waste”  (I am not kidding)

Now, you tell me, – is that a,   “good”  cancer?

Since after thyroid cancer your thyroid is gone, you need to take a daily thyroid hormone pill. Problem with that is, it has to be adjusted and balanced.   People with thyroid disease know the roller coaster effect of having to much (hyper) or too little (hypo) of the hormone in your system.

Believe me, this isn’t so,   “good”

And after you had the surgery and your radio-active “glowing in the dark”   treatment to remove any remnant cells, you need to have check-ups to make sure no thyroid cells are left in your body.   One way of checking is to test for,  thyroglobulin values in your blood. After thyroid cancer and treatments, your thyroglobulin should be near zero. –

In addition, there is a way similar to the RAI treatment, only this time the radio-active dose is much, much lower. Just enough so that a sensitive scanner can pick up any thyroid cells that picked up the iodine. This is called a “whole body thyroid scan

Follow-up with more radio-active scanning, not really,   “good” is it?

The number of thyroid cancer cases in the US are growing recently. When I had my cancer the doctors asked if I was exposed to radioactive fallout or other sources during my youth. – Radiation exposure is one known trigger for thyroid cancers.

That sounds scary to me and not exactly,   “good”

You are getting the message, aren’t you? Well now that, on the other hand, is very,   “good”  !!!

So, after I scared you a little, in the next segment I will talk about some aspects of thyroid cancer that actually are quite positive.   Stay tuned!

HD in Oregon

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38 Responses to “Myth-Busting: The Good Cancer . We’re Talking About Thyroid Cancer

  1. quin browne says:

    i wasn’t told to go on a low iodine diet.. yay, bad doctors!!

    i’m so tired of hearing i had the ‘good’ cancer. that negates everything i’ve been through and will continue to go though.. it says that my concerns and fear were silly.

    no cancer is good cancer. ever.

  2. Dear Thyroid says:

    i’m so tired of hearing i had the ‘good’ cancer. that negates everything i’ve been through and will continue to go though.. it says that my concerns and fear were silly.
    no cancer is good cancer. ever.
    – Exactly.

    To marginalize having cancer is so offensive. Cancer is cancer, is cancer, is cancer; period. I’m so sorry that you have had to contend with his and continue to.

    Thank you for speaking up and out about it, Quinny.

  3. Lori says:

    “Cancer is cancer, is cancer, is cancer; period.” Yes it is!

    To not be validated is horrible for anyone but to have cancer and be told, “it’s the good cancer” and not have that validated has to be the most offensive feeling ever. I do not have thyroid cancer but every time I see this on the posts, it makes me feel physiclly ill, and I am so sorry there is such ignorance from the doctors that are supposed to be the one’s helping you. They must be the one’s responsible for making others believe this awful, untrue myth.

    Also, HD, this is the best written explination of thyroid cancers I have seen put together for people that do not have it.

    Thank You for doing this!

  4. Tracy U says:

    I had my surgeon tell me it was cancer and no cancer is good but this is the kind to have if you are going to have one. I understand what he’s saying but it still made me mad. I felt exactly as above, that my concerns and fears were very silly and unfounded. No cancer is good cancer, period!! I have heard about many cases that had nowhere near a good outcome, many side effects, etc. We are lucky to have eachother for support as others don’t necessarily understand it completely.

  5. HD inOregon says:

    Lori,

    Thanks for your nice compliment!

    Here is another story that shows how really bad thyroid cancer can become: Roger Ebert, the film critic, his thyroid cancer surgery unfortunately went very bad. See: http://is.gd/b5KZt

    HD in Oregon

  6. Lori says:

    HD I put a link to this from my FB page. I hope people read it.

    I have read Roger Ebert’s story and had been to his blog several months ago. Very sad outcome but what a courageous, inspiring man, despite what happened. I will check out your link, as it has been a while since I was at his blog so I am not up to date on his progress.

    This is a sad example why these myths need to go away because people are devastated and suffer horribly no matter what cancer they have. There are other ways a doctor can comfort a patient when being told they have cancer. I just don’t understand how they could think this makes someone feel better, or do you think it makes it easier for them?

  7. What an excellent article, HD! You wrote it so well in a way that those who are not as familiar with thyroid cancer will understand the process. You also have a very engaging writing style.

  8. Dear Thyroid says:

    Lori – Beautifully said re: doctors ignorance. If I may add another thought; people, too. I have heard people say, “Great, it’s only thyroid cancer”. “Good for you.”

    Wow.

    Let’s digest that for a moment. I would be heartbroken and feel so marginalized.

    I agree, HD’s explanation is perfect.

  9. Dear Thyroid says:

    Tracy – I had not considered that perspective. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

    Agreed – We have each other, so grateful for this.

  10. Dear Thyroid says:

    Sarah – I completely agree.

    HD – Thank you so much for writing this wonderful article.

    And, and, and… there’s another one coming tomorrow from H to the D

  11. Michelle says:

    HD great article! You really summed it up. My surgeon told me there are “get your affairs in order types of cancer, and this is not one of those cases, but it is still cancer.” That was a great way to put it. However, it’s the well meaning but uninformed people who have said “good cancer” to me. The best was “well now you’ve had your surgery so we won’t have to hear about this anymore.” Really? Wow! … I’m currently waiting for the decision to be made about RAI, I’m in a grey area apparently…I realize the long road of scans and tests over the months and years to come. Right now however, in the quiet after the storm of surgery it’s a weird little void. One could almost believe that is all there is to it. Anyone else feel that in the waiting period before RAI?

    • Anna Emert says:

      Yes the wait is hell. I remember just feeling so tired. Have had the RAI more than once. Gets easier, at least for me. Attitude is everything. One common thing in these posts – We all know someone worse off.

  12. HD inOregon says:

    Thank you all for the nice comments. – I hope you like tomorrow’s part two as well!

    Be balanced and feel well!

    HD

  13. Awesome article, HD! I really really loved it! You gave us the facts that prove thyroid cancer IS NOT GOOD. Thank you.

    I’m so very fortunate to have a doctor who gets that thyroid cancer, like any cancer, is bad and nothing about it is easy. I truly love him for not minimalizing my cancer. Comments from others who do not understand can really hurt.

    I look forward to reading part 2! I agree that there are positive aspects of thyroid cancer, so I am anxious to read your point of view on what you consider to be positive!

  14. Galen Herrud says:

    Just as usual you’ve presented some excellent tips. Been a lurker on the webpage for a while and wished to say thanks to you for taking the time to post it.

  15. I have papillary and compared to my friends with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, I do thank my lucky starts that I have thyroid cancer, but as you point out, my cancer is still hard, scary, and no picnic.

    I think it is important to come up with good responses when people say this to us. I like to say,”Well, I’m happy to give it to you if you’d like it. I’ve had tons of medical bills and 19 tumors in my neck, so I’d love to give it away if you want it!” I say it sort of jokingly and non-offensively. It helps other people know what I’ve gone through and makes them realize that they maybe shouldn’t say this to anyone else.

    Good post.

    Kairol
    http://everythingchangesbook.com/

  16. Amber says:

    Kairol – I’m glad you mentioned your friends who have colon cancer. I agree that there is no ‘good’ cancer, but which would you choose? Colon or thyroid? Breast or thyroid? Lung or thyroid?

    It’s all about perspective. I had a friend going through Chemo for hodgkin’s lymphoma while I was dealing with my thyroid cancer. Anytime I started to feel sorry for myself, I thought of her and how lucky I was that I wasn’t in her shoes.

    It’s all about perspective…looking forward to part 2!

  17. HD inOregon says:

    Kairol, Amber,

    I agree! I had both throat cancer and thyroid cancer and a skin cancer more or less all at the same time. Given the choice, I definitely go for the thyroid cancer myself. —

    But that still wouldn’t mean I call it a “good” cancer.

    HD

    Re: my cancer story http://www.hd-una.com/hd-cancer.html

  18. HD inOregon says:

    Thank you all for your comments! They are really great and very insightful!

    HD

  19. Kim says:

    Thanks for writing this blog, HD. Here’s another statement from my surgeon that wasn’t so helpful, and again harkened back to most doctors’ impressions that thyroid cancer is the ‘good cancer': “Just put it behind you.” I don’t think ANY cancer, no matter HOW good the prognosis may be, merits that kind of statement. No one can predict what will happen in the future, and all cancers have some risk of recurrence. Of course people with thyroid cancer, just like any other cancer, will continue to have concern and anxiety about how their bodies feel different after surgery, on the thyroid hormone replacement, etc. as well as about future risk of recurrence. I really think those kinds of statements are uttered more to help the doctors themselves (the vast majority of whom have NOT had cancer nor any other major medical condition), not the patient. (And FYI, I am a doctor myself as well as a thyroid cancer patient.)

  20. Melissa says:

    thank you so much for writing this it helped me know i want the only one feeling that no cancer is good.

    thank you
    Melissa

  21. Valori says:

    the good caner I always found that amusing I am stage III papillary I was diagnosed 4 yrs ago after my neck dissection I was told I am non responsive to treatment
    and to live with my cancer, My response was how bout you get cancer and live with it then call it management
    I am finding more and more people who are non responsive to treatment I think they need to find a new one then
    or what hope do we have?

  22. Valori, thanks so much for sharing your story and your thoughts with us. Living with cancer is SO very hard. It’s a heavy burden that you have to carry every single day. I get that. I was dx with papillary (stage I) in 2008 and I am not yet cancer-free. This “easy” cancer is not so easy, is it? You can read more about my experience with cancer by checking out my column “Life Redefined.” http://dearthyroid.org/category/life-redefined/

  23. Kristin Anthony says:

    I wish more people would respect that thyroid cancer is not a “good Cancer” I just hung up with my radiation oncologist’s nurse trying to get a referral to a good endo and she said that it would take 3-6 months. I asked if having had thyroid cancer would make a difference and she said, “No, it doesn’t rank high on their priority list.” Seriously???.

    • Valori says:

      thats insane thyroid cancer takes the backseat to every other cancer it kills like all other cancers I wish they would change their thinking on this my cancer is non responsive to treatment what other options do i have? other than being told to live with it and management

  24. nicole says:

    And what if you have anaplastic thyroid carcinoma…..first off no cancer is good. The earlier you detect the better with any cancer. You can’t generalize cancer it depends on the type you have of that organ. My father died from anaplastic thyroid carcinoma, most people don’t live 1 year after they are diagnosed(it is the deadliest thyroid cancer,radiation or chemo arnt effective) I strongly believe we need to moniter our food (stop eating processed,artificial,hormone injected food).

    • Roxann says:

      Nicole
      Sorry about your dad. We found out in December 2012 that my dad has the same cancer. If you don’t mind , how long after he found out did he died . He keeps getting choked and that scares us so much. Any info you care to share , we would love to hear. Sorry again

  25. Anna Emert says:

    When I was told I had Thyroid cancer I was watching my mother go through lung cancer. They had given her one year to live. I felt bad telling her my cancer could be cured. You have to get over these labels. It is how YOU as the patient deal with your situation not how the doctors and other people deal with it. My mother was just glad I was not going to die from cancer like she was. She has been gone since Jan. 2007. I wish she had, had good cancer.

  26. Justi says:

    Our cancer is a life changing event…we are never the same, not only are we missing a vital body part, but it the so called cure rots out bones, saps our energy, causes cognitive delays, dries out skin, lessens out sex drive, raises our cholesterol, leaves us at higher risk for more cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, damages our teeth, and bone loss.

    I have friends who survived other cancers, and they do not have the long terms health effects. All of us agree it takes a toll on us emotionally.

    All cancer is bad~!

  27. Stephanie Mujais says:

    When I was first told, at the age of 32, that I had thyroid cancer-I was not thinking how “good” it was. Although I was thankful it was treatable, it was very difficult to go through surgery and be hypothyroid for months on end with little children to care for. I felt if I heard one more time, “thyroid cancer is a good cancer to have,” I might just hit someone.

    I went a second round with thyroid cancer and had radiation. It wasn’t too “good” either.

    So, I believe the medical community should offer hope and encouragement. However, skip the “good cancer” comments!

  28. PugsLee says:

    Thanks for a great article and one that makes me not feel de-valued! Thyroid cancer has been no picnic. I had total thyroidectomy with a lymph gland removed. It was followed with RAI which has caused many side effects – especially the swollen parotid gland which is persistent. My energy level is still not good although my thyroid globulin level is great and my replacement hormone said to be at the correct level. I also ended up with the frozen rotator cuff issue that can be related to thyroid cancer. It is extremely painful and I’m in my third month of therapy and cortisone injections. If that is not enough, last week I found out the surgeon “accidentally” took out two of my parathyroids and that I now have two more lymph node invloved. I’m looking at another surgery to have the lymph nodes removed and was told this surgeon has to be be highly skilled in order to not damage the remaining parathyroids or previous surgeon’s work. Forgot to mention that I was a semi-professional singer … well, the vocal range has never come back and could be compromised more with the next surgery. Good? I don’t think so. This is a lifelong battle.

  29. charles says:

    I had a nodule come up about 2 months ago and had it looked at my family Dr.I went to have a ct scan then ultrasound and finally fine needle biopsy dont sound bad.It came back papulary carcinoma.Hit me like a brick wall.I had total thyroidectomy a little over two weeks ago.I started a low iodine diet one week ago oh by the way almost everything has iodine.I got a scan coming in a week the a week later radioactive iodine treatment.Its been up and down but i pray everything works out for all of the others..I say it is cancer and it is real cancer

  30. jb says:

    hi there…I have been diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer twice…the first time, I was 13!!! The dr. removed 1/2 my thyroid….and I was put on suppression synthroid….no issues…forward 25 years, and it came back…had a total thyroidectomy, and removed lymph node as well (spread)…I opted out of the RAI, because I have an autistic child that would not understand that he cannot come “close” for 5 days….I am being followed by a Dr. at Sloan kettering, 2x A YEAR….I feel great, thank God no chemo needed for this type of cancer…could be so much worse…so to me, it’s more of a “nuisance”….not realy scary….

  31. Michal says:

    Just got Tg results back. I’m at 8.3, but thanks to the new “health care guidelines”, I was turned down for further testing to see if a recently discovered mass in my neck is cancer! What’s good about this?

  32. Sara says:

    It’s interesting, I’m a victim of this in a totally different way. I had thyroid cancer when I was
    16. Yup, crazy time to have it so young. Of course I was devastated at first, but then I thought “oh, it’s just a surgery, I get it cut out and move on”. That is legitimately what I thought and to this day I think I of it that way.
    See, I was diagnosed right after my mom had gone through severe mental illness, as well as always her having heart problems. I went through so much shit that a major surgery seemed easy. The only thing I was scared about was having the IV put in. Its only just in the past year or so (several years after the surgery and treatment) that I’m finally giving myself credit for having gone through a severe illness. I still don’t in a lot of ways. I don’t think of myself as a cancer “survivor”. It wasn’t as hard as other things I went through so i marginalize it. And Itsme who’s the only one saying “I had the good kind of cancer”. Sorry for the novel, but I thought I’d offer this perspective and say thank you for helping me realize that the fact that I went trough having cancer actually is kind of a bigger deal than I think it is and that I need to not beat myself up over things that I’ve had to physically and emotionally deal with as a result of having thyroid cancer.

    On another note, I’ve been wondering if people who have had thyroid cancer experience fatigue after going through it. I know other kinds of cancer do that but I’m not sure about thyroid cancer.

  33. Stephanie Mujais says:

    Sara,

    Fatigue is a definite effect of thyroid problems. It ranges from being “tired or fatigued”, to “I can’t get off the couch” to “I feel like I am wrapped with chains and weights and I can’t move.”
    There are so many variables that affect your thyroid levels. Research has helped me to stay fairly stable,but it took years. Soy products and calcium taken too close to my morning dose of thyroid medication medication created problems.
    I hope you are doing well, it sounds like you have been through a lot in your life.

  34. Cindy says:

    I also was told repeatedly that it was the good cancer. It was/is amazing how completely isolating that statement can be.
    The only comparisons being made were that I wouldn’t have chemo or lose my hair.
    I feel for people who have long drawn out battles and get really sick from chemo, I really do. But I didn’t think I was in some sort of competition when I got diagnosed, and this isn’t someone else’s story, it’s mine
    Thyroid cancer for me has been no walk in the park.

  35. Cass Simone-Munson says:

    I am just starting out .. They just did initial testing in my thyroid and I am waiting for diagnosis. I reading all of they letters has given me a much better perspective. I didn’t know much about thyroid cancer before but I am learning ad much as I can now. Thank you. It is very helpful to hear about different treatments and input from people who are undergoing similar issues. Again, thanks for this informative forum. Cass

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