As some of you may know, September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. However, September is also Childhood cancer, Leukemia, Lymphoma, Prostate, and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. That’s a lot of awareness for just four short weeks! But a couple of the cancers we celebrate and advocate for this month are often called the “best” cancer to get. Thyroid cancer and prostate cancer are both sometimes called “good” cancers, due to the fact that they are considered easily treatable when caught at early stages and are often thought to be slow-growing. Though it is true that thyroid cancer and prostate cancer both have very high five-year survival rates (98% and 99%, respectively), there isn’t anything “good” about them.
Even with such low mortality rates, thyroid cancer and prostate cancer are fairly common cancers. The American Cancer Society has estimated over 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer and over 64,000 new cases of thyroid cancer for this year. Prostate cancer, though often thought of as a “good” cancer, it is still the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in men, only preceded by lung cancer.
I have been told by doctors that thyroid cancer “is the best one to get,” yet treatment often includes removal or destruction of the thyroid, which is a very important little gland! Though the surgery can usually be done quickly, recovery takes time for the neck muscles to heal themselves, as they must be cut in order to reach the thyroid. Many people, including myself, often experience permanent voice changes after thyroidectomies, and are completely dependent on synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of their life. Prostate cancer typically involves very tricky surgery, and even when it is successful, it can still lead to chronic issues such as incontinence or impotence.
Both diseases are usually described as “slow-growing,” but when either of these cancers spread it can lead to many severe issues. Thyroid cancer often spreads first to the lymph nodes, and can metastasize in the lungs. When prostate cancer spreads, it typically affects lymph nodes and the pelvic or hip bones.
Every stage and type of cancer causes harm to the body, and many times the effects of treatment last for years. I don’t see anything “good” about that. Putting an extra label of “good” or “bad” onto this disease creates a completely unnecessary hierarchy on something that doesn’t need to be ranked. It’s time to remove the phrases “good cancer” and “bad cancer” out of our vocabularies, and focus on finding more effective treatments for all cancers and supporting the patients and survivors.