Category: Thyroid Surgery
Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer: The Pros and Cons of Surgery
Any kind of cancer diagnosis can be an emotionally devastating experience. However, because so many patients are unfamiliar with the thyroid gland, a thyroid cancer diagnosis can be particularly confusing. Many have only the vaguest notion of the thyroid’s location and function, and as such, gaining an understanding of the prognosis, treatment options, and possible outcomes associated with a thyroid cancer diagnosis can be challenging.
For reasons that researchers have not yet been able to determine conclusively, thyroid cancer is rapidly on the rise in the United States. Over the course of the last decade, the disease has taken the lead over all other forms of cancer in the number of new cases diagnosed annually. Currently, it is estimated that about 1 in 1000 Americans will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their lifetimes, and about 350,000 men and women are living with the disease at any given moment.
Although the prevalence of thyroid cancer is increasing, the good news is that this disease is highly curable. Compared to most other types of cancer, thyroid cancer has a very low morbidity rate -- fewer than 1000 people die from the disease each year. If detected early, there is a very high likelihood that treatment will be successful.
Which Thyroid Cancer Treatment is Best?
While the survival rate for those diagnosed with thyroid cancer is very high, achieving the best outcome depends upon the selection of the right treatment for each patient. Today, there are several effective methods for thyroid cancer treatment. In order to choose the best approach, your medical team will consider all of the facts of your case, as well as consulting with you to determine the treatment method that will best suit your overall health and lifestyle.
Perhaps the single most important factor in determining the thyroid cancer treatment that will work for you is the type of thyroid cancer that you have. Contrary to popular belief, there are several different kinds of thyroid cancer, including anaplastic carcinoma, papillary carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, and follicular carcinoma.
Each of these thyroid cancers has different symptoms and physical manifestations, and as such, they respond best to different types of treatment. Your precise diagnosis will help doctors determine whether radiation, surgery, or a combination of both will work for you. In some rare cases, chemotherapy may also be necessary, but this treatment method is often ineffective for thyroid cancer.
Thyroid Cancer Surgery
In other forms of cancer, surgery is often regarded as a last resort to be undertaken if other types of therapy prove to be ineffective. In the case of thyroid cancer, however, surgery is typically seen as the best form of treatment, and many patients who are newly diagnosed with the disease are scheduled for surgery very soon afterwards.
In most thyroid cancer surgeries, the entire gland is removed. If there is any indication that the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, these may also be extracted during the same surgical procedure.
In comparison to many other types of surgical treatments for cancer, thyroid cancer surgery is a relatively simple operation. In the absence of any serious complications, patients typically recovery from the surgery rapidly and can be released from the hospital within two days of the procedure.
Post-surgical care is usually easy; patients must tend to the stitches used to close the small neck incision. More problematic is the challenge of managing the neck pain and swelling that are common after-surgery complaints. In some cases, the patient may experience temporary difficulty speaking and/or swallowing, although these issues usually resolve themselves in the recovery process. In rare instances, excess fluid may accumulate under the skin, resulting in the need for drainage.
Long-Term Advantages and Disadvantages of Thyroid Cancer Surgery
Although the surgical treatment of thyroid cancer is typically very effective in treating the disease, there are a number of side effects from the surgery that can require some adjustment. First and foremost is the ongoing need for synthetic replacement of the thyroid hormones.
Because the thyroid gland is usually removed entirely during the surgery, the body can no longer produce these highly important chemical compounds on its own. Patients are sometimes surprised to learn that they will have to remain on a course of thyroid hormone replacement drugs for the rest of their lives.
A related issue is the problem of weight regulation after thyroid surgery. Because the thyroid plays a central role in the control of the metabolism, some patients experience the symptoms of low thyroid function after surgery, including fatigue, sluggishness, depression, and weight gain. However, these symptoms can be kept to a minimum by adhering closely to the prescribed regimen of thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
In spite of the possible side effects, the most important fact to remember is that surgery represents the most effective treatment for thyroid cancer. Although it’s true that some of the side effects from the surgery can be difficult to handle, the prognosis and survival rate for thyroid cancer patients who have undergone the procedure is excellent. The best long-term advantage of thyroid cancer surgery is the gift of life.
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