Papillary Thyroid Cancer: The Good and Bad of the "good Cancer"

Reese W. Randle, Norah M. Bushman, Jason Orne, Courtney J. Balentine, Elizabeth Wendt, Megan Saucke, Susan C. Pitt, Cameron L. Macdonald, Nadine P. Connor, Rebecca S. Sippel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Papillary thyroid cancer is often described as the "good cancer" because of its treatability and relatively favorable survival rates. This study sought to characterize the thoughts of papillary thyroid cancer patients as they relate to having the "good cancer." Methods: This qualitative study included 31 papillary thyroid cancer patients enrolled in an ongoing randomized trial. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants at the preoperative visit and two weeks, six weeks, six months, and one year after thyroidectomy. Grounded theory was used, inductively coding the first 113 interview transcripts with NVivo 11. Results: The concept of thyroid cancer as "good cancer" emerged unprompted from 94% (n = 29) of participants, mostly concentrated around the time of diagnosis. Patients encountered this perception from healthcare providers, Internet research, friends, and preconceived ideas about other cancers. While patients generally appreciated optimism, this perspective also generated negative feelings. It eased the diagnosis of cancer but created confusion when individual experiences varied from expectations. Despite initially feeling reassured, participants described feeling the "good cancer" characterization invalidated their fears of having cancer. Thyroid cancer patients expressed that they did not want to hear that it's "only thyroid cancer" and that it's "no big deal," because "cancer is cancer," and it is significant. Conclusions: Patients with papillary thyroid cancer commonly confront the perception that their malignancy is "good," but the favorable prognosis and treatability of the disease do not comprehensively represent their cancer fight. The "good cancer" perception is at the root of many mixed and confusing emotions. Clinicians emphasize optimistic outcomes, hoping to comfort, but they might inadvertently invalidate the impact thyroid cancer has on patients' lives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)902-907
Number of pages6
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • good cancer
  • papillary thyroid cancer
  • patient perspectives
  • qualitative research
  • thyroidectomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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