While treatment for cancer is often challenging for patients and their loved ones, some cancers are much easier to handle than others. This article highlights one such cancer.
My surgical oncology residency was spent in a government cancer center that saw about 13,000 new cancer patients in a year. Most were referrals from other hospitals, and thus the bulk of cases was complicated or advanced disease. Having come from a general surgical background where the majority of patients recovered easily and were cured completely, it took some time to grasp the realities of oncological patient care.
Even the day-to-day conversations among us residents were occasionally quite morbid. One such discussion was – if you were to get cancer, but you could choose a particular type of cancer, which one would you pick?
The overwhelming consensus was “papillary cancer of the thyroid.” (papillary cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for about 90% of thyroid cancers).
What makes thyroid cancer so easy to cope with?
- Prognosis is excellent: Long-term survival rates of cancer confined to the thyroid approach 100%. Even with spread to the lymph nodes of the neck, the survival is about 99%.
- Treatment is relatively easy: The mainstay of treatment is surgery. Usually, this is followed by thyroxine tablets, once a day. Some people require radioiodine therapy following surgery, which is given as oral medication.
- Surgery is low-morbid: Life-threatening complications due to surgery are extremely rare. Most of the time, surgery is simple and uneventful.
- Quick discharge: Hospital stay is usually just for one or two days following surgery. Some people can even be discharged on the day of surgery.
- Fast Recovery: Recovery from surgery is quick – on the day of discharge, people are well enough to independently perform their day-to-day activities. Most people get back to work within a week.
- No chemotherapy: Except in very advanced stages, chemotherapy is not required for the treatment of thyroid cancer.
- No radiation therapy: Other than a few aggressive thyroid cancers, conventional radiation therapy is not indicated in the treatment of thyroid cancer. Instead, radioiodine, which is given as oral medication, is used when necessary.
Two decades following my residency, with the survival rates of many other cancers also having improved significantly, oncology residents of today would still be hard-pressed to find another cancer as easy to manage as thyroid cancer!