Survivors of thyroid cancer report their quality of life after diagnosis and treatment as poor compared with patients whose diagnoses are more lethal cancers, according to new research published in Thyroid (doi:10.1089/thy.2015.0098).

The findings, from the University of Chicago Medical Center (UChicago Medicine) in Illinois, shed light on a rarely studied outcome for a group of patients expected to become 10% of all of American cancer survivors.

The National Cancer Institute estimates 5-year survival rate for patients with thyroid cancer is nearly 98%. 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.

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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 1174 thyroid cancer survivors, 89.9% female with an average age of 48 years, from across the United States and Canada. Participants were recruited through the thyroid cancer clinics at UChicago Medicine, the clinics of 6 other universities, and 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 well-being to measure patient-reported quality of life. Results show thyroid cancer survivors scored an average of 5.56 of 10 on the scale. That was worse than the mean quality of life score of 6.75 reported by survivors of other cancer types, including colorectal and breast cancer, that have poorer prognoses and more invasive treatments.

The researchers theorize that the need for ongoing cancer surveillance due to a high rate of disease recurrence after treatment is a significant contributing factor to these findings.

In addition, patients who were younger, female, and less educated, as well as those who participated in survivorship groups, reported even worse quality of life than other study participants. However, quality of life gradually improved for both male and female thyroid cancer survivors after reaching the 5-year milestone.

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 physicians can use to assess psychological well-being in thyroid cancer survivors.