Leading oncologist of India, Dr Sandeep Nayak, busts Myths about thyroid cancer

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam's apple, that produces hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. Thyroid cancer is a form of cancer caused by abnormal cell development in the thyroid. There are several other diseases of thyroid other than cancer.

Thyroid cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages. Hence, it may stay undiagnosed until signs and symptoms such as a swollen neck, voice alterations, and difficulty swallowing appear. There are various forms of thyroid cancer, most of which develop slowly. However, patients with most types of thyroid cancer can be treated successfully.

Dr Sandeep Nayak, the founder of the Macs Clinic, states, 'Thyroid cancer is treatable, and the treatment options depend upon the type, stage and grade of thyroid cancer. We at Macs Clinic offer the best holistic treatment plan and focus on preventing cancer from spreading, growing, or even recurring.'

However, Dr Sandeep Nayak has come across several myths about thyroid cancer over his years of practice which he wishes to dispel. He states such myths are misleading and create a lot of confusion among the patients and their family members, so he attempts to clear them.

Are Painless nodules of thyroid not cancer?

People wrongly believe that a neck lump indicates thyroid cancer, which is not always the case. Common colds, flu and other health conditions can also cause lumps in the neck. So, it is best to get a medical checkup done for the same, while more than 90% of the thyroid lumps are benign. Most of the cancers of thyroid gland are painless. In fact most of the painful swellings of thyroid turn out to be benign conditions like thyroiditis or colloid nodule.

Does Thyroid function test become abnormal when cancer starts?

The function of thyroid gland is usually unaffected by thyroid cancer. Hypothyroidism, low functioning thyroid, may coexist along with some cancers, but it is not due to cancer. So, if you have thyroid cancer you may expect normal report on thyroid function test which is blood test.

Is Thyroid cancer a good cancer?

It is a myth to state that thyroid cancer is good cancer. There is no concept of good cancer; like all other cancers, a patient needs to get treated and make necessary changes in their lifestyle. Patients with thyroid cancer are likely to have a high survival rate.

But for that, they need to seek early treatment and recover well. It has the highest prognosis variation of all cancers. Often, it leads to the removal of the thyroid gland, necessitating lifelong hormone replacement and monitoring. Compared to other cancers it is a better cancer to have as the treatment is simpler. Also, post treatment, the survival is very good.

Does Thyroid Cancer occur mainly in older people?

People believe that older people are only at risk of developing thyroid cancer. However, it is a disease of the young, though, cancer can occur at any age, especially in the 20 to 60 age group. Papillary and follicular types of cancers are more common among younger age group. It is also interesting to note that younger individual with thyroid cancer do better than older individuals.

Are there food restrictions for thyroid cancer patients?

People with thyroid disorders or cancers should not consume cruciferous vegetables, which is incorrect. All types of green and cruciferous vegetables are suitable for consumption by people with thyroid issues and though nothing in excess is good. Food restrictions are advised only in the runup to radioiodine after surgery.

How normal is life after thyroidectomy?

People believe it is impossible to live normally after thyroid surgery or have a shorter life span post-surgery, which is untrue. Patients can live a normal life after total or subtotal thyroidectomy. But they can develop hypothyroidism, for which they need to consume a synthetic thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is available as tablet which is consumes once per day and this tablet hardly has any side effect.

Are Benign nodules or lumps are safe?

Most patients believe that benign nodules or lumps are safe and no health complications are likely to arise from them. Instead, if these nodules grow quite big, they can block the throat or produce excess hormones. Large benign thyroid nodules (multinodular goiters) can move the wind pipe or compress it completely. They can also extend into chest from neck and compress the organs in the chest. Most thyroid nodules may not need surgery and we can wait to see if it potentially can cause problem.

Is thyroid cancer an emergency?

Most thyroid cancers are slow growing cancers and a patient can wait for a month or more to make a proper treatment plan. It goes without saying that earlier it is treated, better it is.

Is Open surgery a better option to treat thyroid cancer?

The type of approach depends on the comfort of the surgeon who is performing the surgery. A surgeon who is only competent in open surgery cannot offer robotic surgery. Robotic surgery, especially RABIT technique, if performed by competent robotic surgeon has many advantages over open surgery. The robotic technology assists the surgeon in performing better quality surgery.

Dr Sandeep Nayak is a leading surgical oncologist in India based in Bangalore. He shares details of surgical options available to treat thyroid cancer, viz. traditional open surgery, Robotic-assisted Breast-axillo Insufflated Thyroidectomy (RABIT) and Laparoscopic (Endoscopic) Thyroid Surgery.  

Dr Nayak introduced the Robotic-assisted Breast-axillo Insufflated Thyroidectomy (RABIT), which he performs using the da Vinci robotic system. As a result, the patients experience less surgical trauma, minimal blood loss and speedy recovery with overall better results post-RABIT surgery.

Patients and their families should consult expert and experienced cancer surgeons such as Dr Sandeep Nayak for more authentic information on thyroid nodules and treatment options.

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