At present, thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S. It means that its rates of new cases are growing faster compared to other types of cancer due to increased detection during imaging tests. In the American Cancer Society’s estimates, 43,720 new cases will be diagnosed and about 2,120 deaths in 2023.
Just like other cancer types, getting a thyroid cancer diagnosis can overwhelm you with fear or worry. Available information on thyroid cancer may sometimes be accurate or sometimes just myths, making your journey harder to manage. Here are some of these common myths and the truths behind them.
Myth 1: Thyroid cancer is better than having another cancer.
Many patients are told, “If you are going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to have because it is good cancer.” While it is true that this type of cancer has high survival rates and can be more easily treated than other types of cancer, it is a wrong assumption. It is actually one of the most misleading statements that can be said to someone who has just received a life-changing diagnosis. Whether successfully treated or not, the truth is all cancers have a significant impact on someone’s life.
It is simply not “the good cancer” because its side effects can be present during a lifetime, and it often requires the removal of the thyroid gland. The removal of this butterfly-shaped gland found in the front of the neck requires one to receive lifelong hormone replacement and monitoring, as the gland plays a major role in the metabolic processes, growth, and development of the body. Moreover, thyroid cancer varies the most in terms of prognosis, thus, it is not better than any other cancer.
Myth 2: The risk of developing thyroid cancer is higher for older adults.
Thyroid cancer may occur at any time regardless of your age and is commonly diagnosed at a younger age. About 66% of all cases are found in people aged 20 to 55 years. Even infants as young as 10 months, if they carry the mutated gene, have a high chance of developing medullary thyroid cancer (the rarest type of thyroid cancer which grows in the medulla or the inside of the thyroid).
Myth 3: A lump on the neck indicates the presence of thyroid cancer.
While the main symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling at the front of the neck, having this does not mean you have thyroid cancer. Most thyroid nodules are benign, but about two or three in 20 are malignant. They are cysts filled with fluid or stored form of colloid, a type of thyroid hormone. If the nodules are solid or have little fluid, they are most likely to be cancerous. But then again, it is not always the case because some solid nodules could be adenomas or hyperplastic nodules that are not cancerous. As long as they don’t grow or cause other symptoms, benign thyroid nodules can be left untreated.
Sometimes a lump on the neck may just be a common cold or flu.
Myth 4: Undergoing thyroid cancer surgery makes it impossible to live a normal life after.
Voice changes and low blood calcium levels may be experienced, and diet changes may be required following the surgery, but you should be able to take back your normal routine after one to two weeks, depending on the type of surgery. However, people who have a total thyroidectomy and most of those who have had a subtotal thyroidectomy will need to take lifelong thyroid replacement drugs (thyroxine). These often come as small tablets, which are easy to take.
Living without or only a part of your thyroid does not mean you cannot live a normal life anymore. Aside from permanent hypothyroidism, the benefits of having thyroid removal weigh more. In the report presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Thyroid Association in 2019, fatigue significantly improved in approximately a quarter of patients involved in the study. This improvement was commonly seen within one year after surgery. However, the rest of the sample patients have reported new-onset fatigue, which still requires further studies.
Myth 5: Eating cruciferous vegetables may further harm the thyroid.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts are often not prescribed to people with thyroid problems as they are believed to interfere with thyroid function. The culprit for this is the goitrogens that inhibit the ability of the thyroid to use iodine. They also trigger the pituitary gland to release thyroid-stimulating hormones, which then promote the growth of thyroid tissue, leading to goiter.
However, according to nutritional experts, cooking or steaming cruciferous vegetables significantly reduces their amount of goitrogen compounds. An Oregon State University study in humans found that consuming 150g/day of cooked Brussels sprouts for a month had no adverse effects on the thyroid.
Given that consuming high amounts of uncooked cruciferous vegetables may potentially lead to goiter, it doesn’t mean that it could eventually evolve into cancer because only about two or three in 20 nodules are cancerous.
New truths about thyroid cancer
In an educational campaign launched by The Light of Life Foundation, Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association, and Eisai, new truths that dispel myths surrounding thyroid cancer have been tackled. Some of these are the following:
- Most thyroid cancers grow slowly and can recur in as much as 30% of patients even one to two decades following their initial treatment. Therefore, follow-up care is necessary to monitor for possible recurrence or spread.
- Less than 10% of thyroid cancer patients will progress to metastatic disease. About 20 to 30% of them may exhibit more aggressiveness and fail to respond to treatments.
With that being said, people at high risk of thyroid cancer as well as thyroid cancer patients, must be well-informed about this disease to be able to get proper diagnosis, treatment, and after-care.