Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer is overwhelming. You will often be overloaded with a flood of information – sometimes the information you hear is accurate, and sometimes the information is a myth, which could make your journey even more confusing. Below are common misconceptions and realities about prostate cancer.
Myth: Thyroid cancer is the “good cancer”.
Fact: “This is what the majority of us hear, and it’s one of the most derogatory and misleading statements that can be made to someone who has just received a life-changing diagnosis. The reason why we’re often deemed ‘lucky’ to have thyroid cancer is because of the high survival rate”, explains Amy Graeber (US): Hashimoto’s Patient, Thyroid Cancer Survivor, and Thyroid Patient Advocate.
Thyroid cancer is not the good cancer – side effects are sometimes lifelong and thyroid cancer usually leads to the loss of the thyroid gland, necessitating lifelong hormone replacement and monitoring, similar in effect to some chronic diseases. Thyroid cancer also has the highest variance in prognosis – which makes it far from the “good cancer”
Myth: Older people are only at risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Fact: Thyroid cancer can be found at any age – about two-thirds of all cases are found in people aged 20 to 60. Medullary thyroid cancer can occur in younger people, especially if they carry a mutated (changed) RET gene.
Myth: Cruciferous vegetables harm the thyroid.
Fact: There’s a misconception among some people that certain types of greens increase your risk of thyroid cancer. Like most other diseases, greens seem to have a mildly protective effect of preventing thyroid cancer.
Myth: A lump in your neck means you have thyroid cancer.
Fact: The lump on your neck can also be caused by other health conditions, such as a common cold or flu. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor. 95% of thyroid conditions are benign.
Myth: I will not lead a normal life following surgery.
Fact: You can absolutely live a long, fulfilling life without your thyroid, or living with only part of your thyroid. Once you have recovered from the effects of thyroid surgery, you will usually be able to do anything that you could do prior to surgery. Many patients develop hypothyroidism following treatment, requiring treatment with a synthetic thyroid hormone (1). Nonetheless, whether you have a total or subtotal thyroidectomy, you can live a long, fulfilling life.
To learn about potential side effects of surgery for thyroid cancer, click here.
Myth: You must be screened for thyroid cancer if you are over 50.
Fact: Currently, no screening methods exist in Canada for thyroid cancer. People who are at a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer may need to be tested earlier or more regularly than people at average risk.
When thyroid cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. People who are at higher than average risk should talk to their doctor about a personal plan for testing. A person’s plan for testing may include:
- physical examination
- neck ultrasound
- genetic risk assessment, counselling and testing, for those with a family history of medullary thyroid cancer
Myth: Benign nodules are safe and will not cause any issues.
Fact: Even benign nodules can cause problems if they grow large enough to obstruct the throat, or if they stimulate the thyroid to over-produce hormones, a condition called hyperthyroidism.
Myth: I’m under 40 – I don’t have to worry about thyroid cancer until at least age 50.
Fact: Thyroid cancer is actually the cancer with the highest incidence in young people. The incidence of thyroid cancer in 15–29 year-old women in Ontario increased rapidly at an average rate of 5% per year between 1981 and 2009, and this disease accounted for 25.2 per cent of new cancer diagnoses between 2000 and 2009 (2). Thyroid cancer does not discriminate.
It is important to talk to your health care provider about your risk of developing thyroid cancer and other cancer.
Information taken from Canadian Cancer Society unless otherwise indicated.
(1) American Thyroid Association, “Thyroid Surgery”, n.d. https://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-surgery/
(2) CancerCare Ontario, “Female thyroid cancer incidences”, 2018. https://www.cancercareontario.ca/en/cancer-facts/female-thyroid-cancer-incidence-varies-across-geographic-regions-ontario