Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time to switch cancers

It may be breast cancer pinktober but I am going to talk about Thyroid cancer today. My other cancer that gets ignored. By the way, September was thyroid cancer awareness month. I didn't see much awareness for it anywhere.

When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer there were somewhere around 12,000 cases diagnosed each year. This year there will be around 44,000. Thyroid cancer is one of those who is greatly increasing in incidence. The increase in incidence is thought to be partly due to to increased exposure to radiation through xrays and other tests. And also due to increased screening and improving technologies for diagnosis. Apparently most tumors are now found to be papillary and 2x2cm or smaller which are considered to be nonproblematic by some doctors.

There are several kinds of thyroid cancer. Anaplastic, the rarest, is the bad one. If you are diagnosed with it, it is automatically Stage IV and treatment options are limited as it is very aggressive. This is what killed the Supreme Court judge a few years back. Medullary, slightly more common than anaplastic, is somewhat different than the others with slightly lower survival rates. Follicular, more common than the two above, is considered relatively aggressive. Papillary is the most common, accounting for over 75% of thyroid cancer cases diagnosed. It is very treatable.
Survival rates for all but anaplastic are in the 90%s.

Thyroid cancer treatment is fairly straightforward. The thyroid is surgically removed. Radioactive iodine treatment is used to dissolve any thyroid remnants. A synthetic thyroid hormone is taken for life. Sounds pretty easy? Well sometimes they have to go back in surgically as they didn't get all of the tumor. Sometimes you need multiple doses of radioactive iodine. Sometimes a patient has a hard time getting settled on a dose of thyroid hormone and has to constantly change doses. You get follow ups to check blood levels regularly. You get ultrasounds periodically to ensure no regrowth. And thyroid cancer can recur 20, 30, 40 years later. Those of us who have had thyroid cancer call it a 'lifetime of vigilance'.

But cancer is cancer. Even if you get a 'curable' cancer you are never cured. How did you get lucky enough to get cancer the first time? Do you still have cancer cells in you? Did they get it all? They don't know.


Ria Vanden Eynde said...

great post Caroline-thx!

linda said...

Thank you Caroline. You're an endless source of information.