The impact of thyroid cancer and post-surgical radioactive iodine treatment on the lives of thyroid cancer survivors: a qualitative study

PLoS One. 2009;4(1):e4191. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004191. Epub 2009 Jan 14.


Background: Adjuvant treatment with radioactive iodine (RAI) is often considered in the treatment of well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma (WDTC). We explored the recollections of thyroid cancer survivors on the diagnosis of WDTC, adjuvant radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment, and decision-making related to RAI treatment. Participants provided recommendations for healthcare providers on counseling future patients on adjuvant RAI treatment.

Methods: We conducted three focus group sessions, including WDTC survivors recruited from two Canadian academic hospitals. Participants had a prior history of WDTC that was completely resected at primary surgery and had been offered adjuvant RAI treatment. Open-ended questions were used to generate discussion in the groups. Saturation of major themes was achieved among the groups.

Findings: There were 16 participants in the study, twelve of whom were women (75%). All but one participant had received RAI treatment (94%). Participants reported that a thyroid cancer diagnosis was life-changing, resulting in feelings of fear and uncertainty. Some participants felt dismissed as not having a serious disease. Some participants reported receiving conflicting messages from healthcare providers on the appropriateness of adjuvant RAI treatment or insufficient information. If RAI-related side effects occurred, their presence was not legitimized by some healthcare providers.

Conclusions: The diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer significantly impacts the lives of survivors. Fear and uncertainty related to a cancer diagnosis, feelings of the diagnosis being dismissed as not serious, conflicting messages about adjuvant RAI treatment, and treatment-related side effects, have been raised as important concerns by thyroid cancer survivors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / pharmacology*
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Postoperative Care / psychology
  • Quality of Life*
  • Survivors
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / therapy


  • Iodine Radioisotopes