“Poor” quality of life in thyroid cancer survivors

14 Dec 2015

Thyroid cancer survivors report poor quality of life after diagnosis and treatment compared with other patients who are diagnosed with more lethal cancers, according to new research from the University of Chicago Medicine.

The findings shed light on a rarely studied outcome for a growing group of patients who are expected to soon account for 10% of all of American cancer survivors.

Thyroid cancer patients have a nearly 98% five-year survival rate, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than 95% survive a decade, leading some to call it a "good cancer." But those successful outcomes mean few thyroid cancer survivorship studies have been conducted.

Using a questionnaire to assess thyroid cancer survivors’ quality of life

UChicago Medicine researchers Briseis Aschebrook-Kilfoy, PhD, assistant research professor in epidemiology, and Raymon Grogan, MD, assistant professor of surgery, are trying to address that data gap. Together, they lead the North American Thyroid Cancer Survivorship Study (NATCSS).

For their most recent research, Aschebrook-Kilfoy and Grogan recruited 1,174 thyroid cancer survivors - 89.9% female with an average age of 48 - from across the U.S. and Canada. Participants were recruited through the thyroid cancer clinics at UChicago Chicago Medicine, the clinics of six other universities, as well as through thyroid cancer survivor support groups and social media.

The researchers then used City of Hope's Quality of Life thyroid tool, a questionnaire that assesses physical, psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing to measure patient-reported quality of life. After treatment, thyroid cancer survivors face a lifetime of cancer surveillance and an anxiety-inducing high rate of recurrence, which could contribute to their findings.

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The psychological wellbeing of thyroid cancer survivors

The analysis of the results revealed that:

  • Thyroid cancer survivors reported an average of 5.56 out of 10 on the scale. That was worse than the mean quality of life score of 6.75 that was reported by survivors of other cancer types (including colorectal and breast cancer) that have poorer prognoses and more invasive treatments.
  • Patients who were younger, female, and less educated, as well as those who participated in survivorship groups, all reported even worse quality of life than other study participants. However,
  • After the five-year mark, quality of life gradually starts to increase over time for both male and female thyroid cancer survivors.

The researchers will continue to track participants to further understand this data. "The goal of this study is to turn it into a long-term, longitudinal cohort," said Grogan, who hopes to develop a tool that physicians can use to assess the psychological wellbeing of thyroid cancer survivors. "But, there was no way to do that with thyroid cancer because no one had ever studied quality of life or psychology of thyroid cancer before."

Aschebrook-Kilfoy and Grogan have begun to collect biospecimens and DNA samples from patients, which can be used to further study environmental and genetic risk factors that may account for the increase. Both researchers hope this study will demonstrate the importance of studying survivorship, especially in thyroid cancer, which may have better patient outcomes but is far from "good."

Source: Medical News Today

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