The Straight Dope from doctors on thyroid cancer

My sister told me last night she was just diagnosed with thyroid cancer. :frowning:

What I’d like to know is what are the currently-available treatment options, and their efficacy? I’m sure her doctors are perfectly competent and capable, but I’d like to hear from the medical professionals on this board for my own peace of mind.

IANAD but my older brother had thyroid cancer about 8 years ago. He had his thyroid removed and his doc told him there was a 99% chance of complete recovery. He had full body scans 2x a year for two years after the surgery. He has been totally fine ever since, no sign of cancer, no lasting effects.
It’s horrible when a family member is going through something like this. I have been thru it myself a few times and getting all the information I could really helped me keep myself together .
Best of luck to you and your family.

Here are a couple of links for further reading, if and when you want such info. Many virtual hugs to you and your family.

Oddly enough I know a woman just diagnosed with the same thing, and she found out on Tuesday.

She is pretty shaken up, but my suggestion would be to do as much online research as you can, so you understand it thoroughly. I do know that it depends on the stage, different stages come with varying degrees of severity. Treatment options range from Chemo-therapy and radiation to surgery and any combination of the chemo and radiation.

My heart goes out to your sister.

Thank you for the encouraging news about your brother, Kristi. I’m glad he pulled through Ok. :slight_smile:

Alyssa, thanks for the links. I’m reading them now, and I’ll pass them on to my sister as well.

Thanks to you, too, Phlosphr. I hope your friend does well, also. :slight_smile:

My friend Paul was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when he was 30. Yesterday was his 36th birthday and he’s still kicking!

Thank God he was married to a nurse, so that instead of ignoring that lump on his neck, she made him go to Emergency and his thyroid was removed the next day.

The surgery was successful, and then they did something with a radiation “pill” or something to flush out any loose cancer cells. It was described to me as “hosing out the garage after you cleaned up.”

He has follow ups every year, and they watch him closely for other types of cancer as well. During his last colonoscopy, they found the polyps of a 50 year old man, but none that were cancerous. His rsk will always be elevated, but he is well and happy.

He must also take thyroid meds for the rest of his life.

As with many other “scary” diseases- catch it early and get it all! Education can do a lot to combat fear.

Good luck to your sister.

Thanks for that EJsGirl. Every bit of encouraging news helps.
[sub]bump, now that I see Quadgop is about.[/sub]

Not much to add - my thoughts are with you, Q.E.D.

By and large, thyroid cancer is what you want if you have to get cancer. For the most common type, cure and survival rates are VERY high as others have pointed out. Treatment usually consists of thyroid surgery, with removal of the gland, as well as post-surgery treatment with radioactive iodine (radioiodine). Treatment with thyroid hormone, both to replace what can no longer be made by the excised thyroid gland and to suppress any residual cancer cells, is also usually given.

Radioiodine, just like non-radioactive iodine, is concentrated in the thyroid gland (and in any thyroid cancer cells too). There is essentially no effect on the rest of the body, although the salivary glands may be affected leading to eventual dry mouth and even tooth decay.

Long term follow-up of people who’ve received radioiodine show that there is very little, if any, risk for secondary cancers as a result of the radiation from the radioiodine. There may be a slight increase risk of leukemia.

Interestingly, if you carefully examine the thyroid gland of healthy people who have died from other causes, the rate of occult thyroid cancer is high. Perhaps 25%. (Look here) So, clearly it is an unusually innocuous cancer in many cases.

Not all thyroid cancers are so “benign”. Sometimes, especially in certain familial syndromes, they can be quite aggressive.

Thanks, KarlGauss. That info makes me feel quite a bit better, though she did mention heredity (she and I are both adopted). Are the familial syndromes you mentioned common?

Now that you’ve heard from one of the doctors, would it be comforting to hear from someone who’s had thyroid tumors?

I had my thyroid removed almost ten years ago because a scan showed numerous tumors. The largest of them ended up being considered pre-cancerous (to quote from the pathology report: “The presence of multiple giant multi-nucleated cells was noted”). My doctor told me, as KarlGauss just said, that if I had to choose a cancer, thyroid cancer was the one to have.

The surgery wasn’t too bad, as these things go, and recovery took about six weeks. My voice was non-existent for two or three weeks and hoarse for another couple of months, but it came back completely in time. The scar on my neck faded over time, to the point that no one notices it unless I point it out. The worst part of the entire episode for me was that I had a very young nursing infant at the time, and I had to wean her and put her on formula while I was still radioactive. All in all, the foot surgery I had four years later was much, much more unpleasant.

Wish your sister luck from me, and I hope you and your family can all take some comfort from the information you’re getting.

Thank you, InternetLegend. This information helps a lot. I know from reading the posts here and the links provided that my sister has an excellent chance of recovery, and I want to thank each and every one of you that posted here. I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

I was referring to so-called medullary carcinoma of the thyroid which comprises around 1 to 2% of thyroid cancers. Of those, about a quarter are familiar. The rest are “sporadic” and occur in the absence of a family history.

So, maybe 0.5% of thyroid cancers are familiar medullary carcinomas.