Thyroid Cancer Canada
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Frequently asked questions


Patient Support – FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

How to take control of your cancer

  • Make a list of questions before you go to your appointment.
  • Ask a family member or friend to come with you to take notes for you.
  • Track your symptoms and side-effects. What does it keep you from doing? What makes it better? Worse?
  • Bring a calendar and note when you can expect to be contacted for referrals and appointments.
  • Ask for copies of lab reports.
  • Ask when you will see your doctor again, and how to reach him or her if you have questions.

Questions to ask your cancer doctor

  • What type of thyroid cancer do I have?
  • How extensive and/or aggressive is it?
  • What "stage" is my cancer?
  • Do I need surgery, and if so, what does this mean for me?
  • Do I require any other treatment, such as radioactive iodine (RAI)?
  • What follow-up will I have in the years to come?
  • Do I need to take Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to restore my thyroid hormone levels? How do you monitor if my levels are ok?
  • How often will I see you?
  • How can I reach you if I don't feel well or have questions?

What does a Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy procedure feel like?

An expert doctor-specialist (commonly a surgeon or radiologist) will insert a needle into one or more nodules in your neck area and withdraw cells, putting those cells on a small slide(s). He/she may put the needle in the same nodule more than once and take several samples to be sure the samples were withdrawn from the right places. The doctor will ask you to put your head back for the procedure and you will feel a poking and pulling sensation. Most people feel that the process is somewhat uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking; but it’s usually a very short procedure. It is not uncommon to have some soreness from the FNA for a few days afterwards, feeling a bit like a bruise. The procedure is very safe and does not cause spread of cancer.

What should I do to prepare for surgery?

  • Prepare. Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods and comfort foods for your return home after surgery.
  • Find a driver. Plan for someone to drive you home.
  • Lighten your workload. Plan for a babysitter, dog walker, etc. Be aware that it may take a few weeks to resume your employment.
  • Use a special pillow. A ‘dog bone’ or curved pillow may be helpful. Some people find these pillows comfortable to support the neck during recovery time. Others use hot or cold packs to minimize the swelling.
  • Pack for the hospital stay. You may need: medications, curved and/or regular pillow, toiletries, slip-on slippers, robe and sleepwear (pajamas or nightgowns that open in the front).
  • When you are released, keep track of the notes and prescriptions given to you. Eat soft high-fibre foods. Don’t sit hunched over.
  • Minimize your scar. Follow your doctor’s instructions for keeping your incision covered and/or the use of ointments.
  • Rest. Recovery usually takes several weeks.

Questions to ask after surgery in the post-op appointment

  • What type of thyroid cancer do/did I have?
  • How many thyroid cancer nodules did I have in my thyroid gland, and what was the size of each?
  • How many lymph nodes were removed during the surgery, and from which part of the neck? How many of those were cancerous?
  • What are my chances for recurrence?
  • Which follow-up procedures will I require?
  • Which doctor are you referring me to see for follow-up on a regular basis for life?
  • What is my initial dose of hormone replacement?

Tip: Write your questions down in advance and bring a friend/relative to help you absorb the information. Ask for a copy of the pathology report from your surgery and start a file of your reports.

Radioactive Iodine Treatment (RAI) questions

  • Can I isolate myself in a hotel room?  No, this is not recommended as there is potential that the housekeeping staff will come in contact with the RAI you discharge from your body. This may include pregnant women.
  • How do I protect my children? If you have young children, it is best that they stay with a relative for the first few days, or that you stay in hospital isolation. Other alternatives are: a basement apartment, a cottage, or friend’s empty house/rooms.
  • What after-effects can I expect? Most people have few after-effects or they are very temporary. Almost all patients treated with RAI have an altered sense of taste for the first few days or weeks (e.g. food tastes like “Styrofoam”). Infrequently, the effect lasts longer.
    • In some cases, patients experience RAI damage to their salivary glands and/or tear ducts (30%). For most people, the effects are temporary. Those who have lasting effects may experience mild pain in their cheeks, mouth dryness and/or blocked tear ducts. Some may require treatment from specialists in corresponding fields of medicine.
    • Occasionally, months later, patients feel some after-effects of RAI as soreness or swelling in glands (face or neck). This usually lasts less than two weeks.
  • When am I “good to go” (be with other people and go back to work)? If you have a treatment dose of RAI, you will have a Whole-Body Scan (WBS) about five to seven days after your treatment. This is usually the time that you are given the “go ahead” to resume your normal activities.  Patients should be aware that a tiny amount of radioactivity remains in their body for months afterwards, enough so that is possible to set off alarms at border crossings and airports. Although border security systems have precision and can recognize that you have ingested an innocuous medical isotope (I-131), those who are travelling within two months of treatment may want to have a note from the hospital to explain that they had medical treatment with radiation.