Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming. All of the information you will start to receive will be just as scary, confusing, and overwhelming. You must relentlessly advocate for your health. Here are the top 10 questions to ask your doctor when you are first diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Become familiar with the general information related to each of these questions so that you can better understand what your doctor is telling you.
1. What type of thyroid cancer do I have?
All types of thyroid cancer impact the thyroid gland, but they have very different characteristics and impacts upon your prognosis, treatment, and recovery. There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic.
2. What stage is my thyroid cancer and how does that impact my prognosis?
Your thyroid cancer stage will be based on a few key factors, such as the type of thyroid cancer, your age (applicable mainly to papillary or follicular thyroid cancer), the size of your tumor, and the spread of the cancer to nearby lymph nodes or to distant locations in the body.
3. Is my entire thyroid infected?
The thyroid gland has a left lobe and right lobe, and tumors can infect one or both lobes. The impact of how much of your thyroid is infected with the cancer will be part of how your doctor determines treatment.
4. Has the cancer spread outside of my thyroid?
There is a possibility that thyroid cancer can spread outside of your thyroid gland to nearby lymph nodes, or in more severe cases, to more distant places in the body.
5. What are my treatment options and what are the risks?
There are a few different treatment options, which will be primarily determined by your type and stage of thyroid cancer. Treatments most commonly include surgery, radioactive iodine, and thyroid hormone medication.
6. What are my current thyroid levels?
Understanding the measurement and meaning of your thyroid levels will be a vital part of the ongoing management of your disease. Beyond understanding your thyroid levels for T3, T4, and TSH, you’ll also want to ask about the thyroid cancer tumor marker thyroglobulin, and thyroglobulin antibody marker, if you have papillary or follicular thyroid cancer. If you have medullary thyroid cancer, the markers to concentrate on are calcitonin and CEA.
7. How will dosing for my ongoing medication be determined?
If your treatment for thyroid cancer requires a partial or full removal of your thyroid gland, you will have to replace the critical functions of your thyroid with hormone medication. This can take time, so being patient while the right dosing is determined will be key.
8. Is there a risk the cancer can come back?
There is a risk of thyroid cancer reoccurring or being persistent, making regular monitoring very important. The type of treatment will be determined by how and where the cancer reoccurs.
9. Will I have to be regularly monitored after my treatment?
Regular monitoring is standard for thyroid cancer patients. The frequency and type of monitoring will be determined by your doctor based upon your specific type of cancer and results of your treatment. Monitoring can include blood work, neck examination, neck ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
10. Where can I get patient support?
Receiving support from fellow patients and survivors can be hugely impactful and rewarding during this challenging time for both you and your loved ones. ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association has been providing education, support, community, and research for more than 20 years to thyroid cancer patients and families.