September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. With numerous occasions on our collective health calendar radars, this is one that tends to be overlooked, underrepresented, or missed entirely. Not because it’s any less significant (than, say, breast cancer or prostate cancer), but possibly because when it comes to thyroid cancer…everyone assumes it’s OK.
“If you had to get a cancer, this is the one you’d want to get.”
This is a statement that most thyroid cancer survivors are familiar with. A harmless phrase of intended comfort, clinical psychologist Dr. Kimberly M. Davis believes that (along with subtle stigmas and silent burdens) these few words are often uncomfortable and even hurtful to those in various stages of treatment and/or recovery.
In her presentation, “Adjusting to and coping with thyroid cancer: what does this mean and look like for me?” at this year’s 25th International Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Virtual Conference, Dr. Davis noted that many of her therapy clients have actually expressed distress that their journey with thyroid cancer is often dismissed, invalidated, and seldom empathized with, because of the widespread assumption that this is a “good” cancer.
What’s so “good” about Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid cancer’s reputation of being a “good” cancer may be because:
- The prognosis is generally promising–this depends on the type of thyroid cancer and the stage it is detected, but if found early, most thyroid cancers can be treated.
- Many patients do not experience symptoms, especially in the early stages.
- It requires a lifetime of monitoring, however, the rate of recurrence (it can spread to other parts of the neck, lymph nodes, and throughout the body) is minimal, even decades after the initial diagnosis.
Dr. Davis recommended support groups specifically tailored for this patient demographic as a beneficial part of the healing process for survivors, helping to cope with lifestyle changes, fears, and other common emotional and mental effects many cancer patients and survivors experience.
Facts about Thyroid Cancer
It is 3x more common in women than in men.
It is the most common endocrine cancer.
It is now the #1 cancer among young people (ages 15-29) in Canada.
There are several types of thyroid cancer: papillary or follicular (the most treatable kinds, representing about 90% of all thyroid cancers); medullary (about 3-4%); anaplastic (the least common and most aggressive kind, at 1-2% of cases); and there are also variants.
For signs and risk factors of thyroid cancer, and additional information about diagnosis and treatment, visit our Sunnybrook Head & Neck Cancer webpage.
Head & Neck Cancer at Sunnybrook
Sunnybrook has the third largest head and neck program in Canada, within the Odette Cancer program’s Head and Neck Cancer Care department–in collaboration with the Neuroendocrine Tumours (NET) department–providing pre-screening assessments, diagnostics, and minimally invasive treatment options. Published thyroid cancer-related clinical trials have included:
- Ultrasound-Guided Fine Needle Aspirate of Thyroid Nodules: The Sunnybrook Experience
- Waiting for Thyroid Cancer Surgery: A Prospective Cross-Sectional Study of Psychological Morbidity and Determine of Health Associated with Long Wait Time for Patients with Thyroid Cancer
- Thyroidectomy and Informed Consent: Do Pamphlets Enhance Post-Operative Recal
Sunnybrook Innovations in Thyroid Cancer
Sunnybrook affiliate scientist and surgical oncologist Dr. Kevin Higgins has an academic focus on “outcome-based head and neck oncology research, with an emphasis on best practice, meta-analysis and microvascular surgical functional outcomes.” In 2016, his team conducted the largest Canadian study in fine-needle biopsy (listed above).
He is currently researching radio frequency ablation of benign nodules and low risk cancers, and Dr. Higgins is also using “next generation sequencing for very advanced, poorly differentiated, and anaplastic cancers, for targeted therapy interventions.”