You’ve Been Diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer: What’s Next?
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Hearing the words “thyroid cancer” is a frightening shock for many people. So, your first step is to take a deep breath, and give yourself the time and space to process this information. In most cases, you have plenty of time to make decisions that are right for you. Don’t let your doctors rush you into treatment decisions before you have fully researched and understood your situation.
Get More Information
In today’s healthcare environment, you need to be CEO and project manager of your health. And that means doing some research and becoming informed, so you can make good choices. A great starting point is connecting with the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association (ThyCa), a non-profit group dedicated to helping thyroid cancer patients and their families. Read, sign up for their newsletters, and join their patient support community to help you get up to speed on the specifics of your particular type of thyroid cancer.
Make Sure Your Doctors Are Sure
Thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed after a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy of your thyroid. Some biopsy results are definitive: You either have thyroid cancer or you don’t. But if your biopsy is classified as “indeterminate” or “inconclusive,” thyroid cancer can’t be ruled out.
Many doctors still recommend that you have surgery—known as thyroidectomy—to remove the gland. Don’t get rushed into this decision. There are genetic tests—one popular one is the Afirma Thyroid Analysis from Veracyte—which can dramatically reduce the chance of indeterminate results. You don’t want to have thyroid surgery to remove your gland (and lifelong hypothyroidism as a result) only to learn afterward that your thyroid nodule was, in fact, not cancerous.
Make Sure You Definitely Need Surgery
In most cases, if you have a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, doctors will recommend surgery. If you have a very small papillary thyroid cancer, however, some cutting-edge practitioners are now advising against surgery.
Instead, they recommend “active surveillance” (also known as “watchful waiting), where your nodule is monitored periodically for changes, and action is taken if needed. Research shows that both approaches have similar outcomes, but active surveillance allows you to avoid surgery, keep your thyroid gland, and avoid lifelong hypothyroidism. Ask about this option and get a second opinion when needed.
UP NEXT: HOW THYROID CANCER SURVIVORS CAN THRIVE
Choose an Experienced Surgeon
If you do need to have thyroid surgery, it’s crucial that you find an experienced surgeon. Research shows that risks of complications are dramatically reduced, and recuperation time is significantly shorter when thyroid surgery is performed by a specialized thyroid surgeon who does at least 50 thyroid surgeries per year.
While your local general surgeon (or ear, nose, and throat expert) may be able to do a thyroid surgery, you’d be smart to choose a surgeon who has a great deal of experience performing thyroid surgeries. Here are some resources to help you find an experienced thyroid surgeon:
- The American Association of Endocrine Surgeons website and their “Find a Member” database
- The American Thyroid Association practitioner database (search for “Endocrine Surgeon”)
- The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists practitioner database (search for “Surgery”)
Because most cases of thyroid cancer are highly treatable and survivable, and don’t usually require chemotherapy or radiation like other cancers, thyroid cancer has been deemed “the good cancer”—much to the frustration of those actually going through it!
Don’t be surprised if doctors—not to mention family and friends—downplay your concerns using this “good cancer” line. Even with a good prognosis, any cancer is scary, and treatments like surgery, radioactive iodine (RAI), regular monitoring for recurrence, and lifelong thyroid hormone replacement are no walk in the park.
You may want to be empowered and proactive with others, and say something like, “I know that the prognosis for my thyroid cancer is good, but I need you to take my fears, concerns, and questions seriously.”
Life After Thyroid Cancer
When you have had a thyroidectomy to remove a cancerous thyroid gland, you will become hypothyroid, and require lifelong thyroid hormone replacement medication to stay well.
An important aspect of your quality of life post-surgery will be understanding the medications so you have optimal hypothyroidism treatment and enjoy the best possible health. A great starting point: Learn more about thriving with hypothyroidism here at ThyroidRefresh® and join our THYROID30® community! You don’t have to endure this alone.