Being diagnosed with cancer is a difficult and stressful experience. When a patient is initially diagnosed with thyroid cancer there is a sudden rush of emotion and information that assaults their senses. This causes many patients to overlook the possibility of asking their doctor important clarifying questions. This is unfortunate because asking an expert about specific aspects of a newly diagnosed condition is perhaps one of the best ways to prepare for future treatments, maintenance, and possible lifestyle changes. Posing the following nine questions to your practitioner after a new diagnosis of thyroid cancer can be hugely beneficial.
1) What Type of Thyroid Cancer is It?
Thyroid cancer comes in multiple forms each of which have a distinct impact on the body. The type of cancer also influences the prognosis, treatment method, and recovery or maintenance plan. Each of the four categories of thyroid cancer have different rates of occurrence that also happen to coincide with their degree of threat. The four forms of thyroid cancer are listed below from most common and treatable to rarest and most dangerous:
It is important to note that some forms of thyroid cancer are hereditary, meaning that it may be beneficial to have other family members tested if you have been diagnosed.
2) What is My Prognosis?
Depending on the stage of development and the type of thyroid cancer, prognosis will vary from patient to patient. In most cases, thyroid cancer is treatable. However, factors such as age, size of the tumor, individual health, and if the cancer has spread to other regions such as the lymph nodes or lungs can complicate matters making treatment more difficult.
3) Is My Whole Thyroid Affected?
The thyroid is composed of two lobes; the left and right. Cancerous tumors can develop and infect one or both. Depending on if a single lobe or the entire thyroid is impacted treatment options and prognosis can change. Typically, patients who have cancer in a single lobe may be able to elect for a partial thyroidectomy rather than complete surgical removal of the thyroid.
4) What Are My Treatment Options?
Depending on the type of cancer and its level of development, a variety of treatment options may be applicable. The most common methods of treatment include a partial thyroidectomy, total thyroidectomy, radioactive iodine treatments, and targeted thyroid hormone medication. Each of these approaches have their own benefits and drawbacks.
5) Are There Side Effects Associated with My Treatment?
As with most cancer treatments, there is a risk of side effects that may trigger the development of serious or debilitating symptoms. Ideally, a patient speaks with a practitioner about the possible side effects of a procedure prior to undergoing treatment. Not only does this help the patient prepare for potential symptoms but it may also provide some relief knowing what symptoms to expect rather than facing them as they arise. Additionally, knowing what symptoms to look out for allows patients to better identify potential problems or indicators that their condition is worsening thereby prompting them to seek out additional care.
6) What is Involved in Ongoing Treatment?
Most thyroid cancer patients will require some form of ongoing treatment after their initial procedure is completed. Typically, a patient will be prescribed thyroid hormone replacement medications to balance out the loss of thyroid function associated with a partial or complete thyroidectomy or other thyroid cancer treatment. Appropriate dosage may take some time to determine. However, once the appropriate balance has been established, the dose should remain consistent. Additional therapies, follow-ups, and testing may also be required.
7) Is There a Risk of Relapse or Future Cancers?
Thyroid cancer can reoccur meaning that it is important be vigilant in monitoring the warning signs of relapse. The degree and frequency of monitoring tests depends on the type of cancer and what treatment method was used. Monitoring cancer risk may include a variety of procedures including blood work, physical examinations, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Thyroid cancer patients are at greater risk of developing a second primary form of cancer after their initial condition has been treated. It is estimated that thyroid cancer patients are 30 percent more likely to develop another form of cancer. Therefore, regular monitoring not only aids in early recognition of thyroid cancer relapse but also the development of other possible malignancies.
8) What Tests do I need for my Thyroid?
Thyroid hormones are essential to healthy bodily function. Individuals suffering from thyroid cancer or undergoing thyroid cancer treatments can experience significant shifts in thyroid function and hormone balance. Therefore, it is important to monitor current thyroid levels and regularly check them to ensure they remain stable. Those with thyroid cancer should have their levels of T3, T4, TSH, thyroglobulin, and antithyroglobulin tested on a regular basis. Those with medullary cancer should also have levels of calcitonin and CEA tested as well.
9) Should I Get a Second Opinion?
It is often beneficial to get the opinion of multiple trusted practitioners when a major health issue is concerned. In most cases, a doctor should be able to recommend other professionals who can provide a second well-informed opinion. Fortunately, most cases of thyroid cancer are recognized early enough that there is adequate time between diagnosis and treatment for a second opinion to be pursued. However, in some cases of thyroid cancer, specifically late stage or anaplastic conditions, treatment may need to happen quickly making a second opinion difficult to acquire.
Getting The Answers You Need
Interacting with your doctor and discussing a newly diagnosed condition is one of the best ways of increasing your understanding of the condition. Knowing more about your specific case can help relieve stress, improve treatment, and aid in recovery. Input and recommendations from a doctor familiar with your specific case is invaluable. Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer can be a challenge but moving forward and getting healthy can be made easier by accessing the knowledge of your doctor by asking them relevant questions.
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