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Papillary Carcinoma: How Is This the 'Friendliest' Type of Thyroid Cancer?

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 13, 2022

    Papillary Carcinoma: How Is This the 'Friendliest' Type of Thyroid Cancer?

    Many of us have a picture of what cancer looks like — a deteriorating chronic condition that takes several surgeries and treatments, which may sometimes end up in hair loss. But not all cancers are the same. This is what Grace Diez, a public relations writer and cancer survivor for 11 years, told HelloDoctor in a new episode of #HelloHealthHeroes. She shared what it’s like to have been diagnosed and treated for a particular type of thyroid cancer. It all began as vertigo, but turned out to be the onset of papillary carcinoma. Read on to learn more about Grace’s journey as she battled cancer.

    Papillary Carcinoma, Explained

    Thyroid cancer is generally a rare condition, but the most common type that falls under this category is papillary carcinoma. This makes up for about 70-80% of all cases of thyroid cancer. The tumor develops from follicular cells, which are responsible for producing and storing thyroid hormones. These hormones then regulate a person’s metabolism, working hand in hand with other bodily processes.

    Thyroid cancer can affect anyone at any age, but it is more likely in women than in men. Two of the most common risk factors for developing this condition are genetics and radiation therapy.

    Doctors may also refer to this kind of cancer as papillary thyroid cancer or papillary thyroid carcinoma.

    How Did Papillary Carcinoma Manifest In Grace’s Health? How Was It Diagnosed?

    For many people, thyroid cancer may not show any symptoms. But for Grace, it started with complaints of a spinning sensation. Doctors prescribed medication for vertigo, but she didn’t feel any better even after three weeks of medication. Her doctor mentioned that vertigo is not an actual kind of illness; rather, it is a symptom of something else.  

    By the time Grace was about to go to the clinic, her cousin observed two lumps on her neck which she didn’t notice herself. Grace added that she wasn’t experiencing any difficulty in speaking, breathing, or swallowing, which are tell-tale symptoms of thyroid cancer. Her doctor insisted that she get a throat ultrasound.

    A thyroid ultrasound is a diagnostic test for examining the thyroid. It allows the doctor to look at the size of the thyroid, as well as other specific features of the nodules such as the following:

  • Number of nodules
  • Calcifications (calcium deposits)
  • Echotexture (how bright or dark it appears on the ultrasound)
  • Borders
  • Shape 
  • Solid or fluid-filled nodules (cystic)
  • From there, doctors confirmed that two nodules were beginning to form in her thyroid gland. The next test she had to go through was a fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB). This test determines whether the nodule is benign or malignant. The FNAB can produce one of four outcomes:

    • Non-diagnostic
    • Benign
    • Malignant
    • Indeterminate

    In Grace’s case, the test revealed a malignant result of papillary carcinoma. It was only at that time that she found out about it. But her doctor assured her, saying that it is one of the “friendliest” types of cancer. Unlike other types, this particular type of cancer is not aggressive as it spread as much. 

    The good thing about papillary carcinoma is that it has the best prognosis of any type of thyroid cancer. Oftentimes, patients with this type of cancer can be cured if they are treated properly and promptly. At the time of diagnosis, approximately 20% of patients may have lymph nodes.

    How Was Grace Treated for Papillary Carcinoma?

    The treatment took place as soon as the laboratory confirmed that samples showed the development of cancer. The first line of treatment, surgery — thyroidectomy, in particular — aided the removal of the thyroid. In such surgeries, if the lump is bigger, then a bigger portion of the thyroid gland will be removed. 

    Following the surgery, Grace was also given radioactive iodine therapy. This type of treatment entails swallowing a radioactive substance that travels through the bloodstream to kill the remaining cancer cells. Moreover, it also assists in detecting residual thyroid cancer, allowing doctors to see if any cancer is left behind or if it returns later.

    With radioactive iodine therapy, everything became “metallic” for Grace — food tasted like metal, and she also had a hard time moving her whole body as it felt metallic as well. When she looked it up online, her searches stated that after two weeks, things would start to feel normal again. However, this wasn’t the same case for her. So she asked her doctor about it.

    Dr. Joe Ryan Agga responded, “Grace, iba-iba ang katawan ng tao, and you have to forgive yourself for not recovering quickly because ‘yung katawan mo, dumaan naman sa giyera. Hindi naman simple ‘yung pinagdaanan mo na total thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine. So, you will heal according to the timeline that your body feels like.” 

    Are There Any Complication that Goes With Thyroid Cancer Treatment?

    Before performing surgical treatment, Grace’s endocrinologist opened the possibility of two complications. One, she could either lose her voice or two, she might suffer from hypocalcemia. 

    Grace was thankful that she did not lose her voice because as a broadcast major graduate, she was very passionate about presenting to the public. 

    To combat hypocalcemia, she is undergoing calcium supplementation to maintain her calcium levels. 

    Key Takeaways

    The whole journey of thyroid cancer came to Grace as a surprise at first. But at the end of it all, it taught her how to count her blessings beyond the monetary, and instead through meeting the right people at the right time. 

    Grace placed her full trust in her doctors throughout her battle against cancer. And now, she is living her best life, cancer-free for 11 years. 

    Watch the full interview with Grace Diez here.

    And learn more about World Cancer Day here

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    John Paul Abrina, MD

    Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 13, 2022

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