An In-Depth Perspective on Thyroid Cancer from a Survivor

In December 2013, my health journey took a concerning turn. Blurred vision, neck stiffness, persistent pain down my left arm, and excruciating headaches left me feeling that something was seriously amiss. Amidst switching health insurance and awaiting my new primary care physician, I found myself in the throes of discomfort. Once seen by my new doctor, a lump on the front of my neck was discovered during the initial physical exam. Subsequent ultrasound results revealed multiple nodules on my thyroid gland, the largest measuring 1.5cm (0.6 inches) in diameter. The biopsy of five nodules yielded a grim diagnosis: thyroid cancer.

My Path to Healing

Surgery ensued to remove my thyroid gland and all nodules. Post-surgery, the remarkable disappearance of neck pain, stiffness, and left arm pain greeted me. My vision returned to normal, and in the aftermath of recovery, I felt a renewed sense of well-being.

The subsequent phase involved receiving radioactive iodine to eradicate any lingering thyroid cancer. During this period, I had to maintain distance, especially from small pets and children, as the radiation could impact their thyroid glands. Confined to our basement, it became a time for introspection and solitude.

Post-treatment scans confirmed the absence of cancer, and my endocrinologist initiated lifelong thyroid medicine as part of my ongoing treatment.

Understanding Thyroid Cancer

With over 50,000 new cases reported annually in the US, thyroid cancer stands as the most prevalent endocrine cancer. In its early stages, patients may not exhibit noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms may include a neck lump, swollen lymph nodes, hoarseness, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and throat or neck pain. It's crucial to note that symptoms may not always align with standard descriptions.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer encompasses various types, such as papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. The majority (90%) are papillary and follicular, with successful treatment if detected early. Medullary thyroid carcinoma accounts for 3-4% and is more manageable if identified before spreading. Anaplastic thyroid cancer, constituting 1-2%, poses a significant challenge in control and treatment due to its aggressiveness.

Recurrence and Risk Factors

While most thyroid cancer patients achieve remission, recurrence rates can reach up to 30%, emphasizing the need for regular follow-up examinations. Factors increasing the likelihood of thyroid cancer include being female, a family history of thyroid cancer, prior radiation exposure to the thyroid gland, and age over 40.

Treatment Options

Standard treatments encompass surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland is common, followed by thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Community Clinical Pharmacy offers customized thyroid medications for individuals requiring hormone therapy.

For insights into thyroid imbalances and treatment options, please contact us and ask to speak with me or one of our knowledgeable pharmacists.