Is Thyroid Cancer Really the Good Cancer?

Woman looking in bathroom mirror, touching neck
Garry Wade/Taxi

Whether you or someone in your life has just been diagnosed with one of the several types of thyroid cancer, or whether you are a long-term thyroid cancer survivor, you may have heard a controversial statement from physicians, friends or family: "Thyroid cancer is the good cancer."

What is all this "good cancer" business all about anyway?

Why Doctors Say Thyroid Cancer is the "Good Cancer" 

Typically, the "good cancer" label is one that some doctors use because many types of thyroid cancer are highly survivable.

According to the American Cancer Society, the following are 5-year relative survival rates for the three common types of thyroid cancer, and Stage I, II, and III:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer: Stage I - near 100%, II - near 100%, III - 93%
  • Follicular thyroid cancer: Stage I - near 100%, II - near 100%, III - 71%
  • Medullary thyroid cancer: Stage I - near 100%, II - 98%, III - 81%

Most other cancers have significantly less promising survival rates.

So looking at it purely from a statistical standpoint, thyroid cancer is, in comparison a "good cancer" in terms of survivability and long-term outcome.

Patient Attitudes About the "Good Cancer" 

While the survival rates for most forms of thyroid cancer are very encouraging and offer hope for recuperation and a cancer-free life for most people who are diagnosed, it's still common for patients to feel frightened, angry, confused, and even shocked to have any type of cancer.

To then be told that this cancer is "good" when you're in the early stages of being diagnosed or in the midst of coping with thyroid cancer treatment and its aftermath can feel denigrating and callous to many patients.

In a poll conducted with more than 2,000 thyroid cancer survivors, 42 percent found that the "good cancer" comments were "totally offensive and...need to stop...right away." Fourteen percent felt that it bothers them enough to ask others to stop saying it.

One patient said:

"If your doctor says thyroid cancer is the good cancer, do not go back! Clearly they do not care about you personally, nor will they ever. If they don't have the compassion to keep such a ridiculous statement to themselves when faced with a cancer patient, then they don't deserve the money they are robbing us of in the first place. Keep looking until you find a kind compassionate doctor that cares about you and your wellbeing. Until you walk in someone's shoes you don't have the right to comment on something you know nothing about. It's rude, it's heartless, and inappropriate, and these doctors that keep saying thyroid cancer is the good cancer should not be able to practice."

Still, there are some patients who don't take issue with the "good cancer" comments. This patient in her 40s has a different take on the issue:

"I can't say is was easy to go through, but I could eat, did not lose my hair, wasn't throwing up from chemo. It was treated in a really unique way. The leftover tissue absorbed iodine that is radioactive and targets that area. Think about how, if you had to get some kind of cancer (no one wants any kind of course), be glad it was one that is so treatable.

I saw friends battle ovarian and other sinister cancers, so shouldn't we almost shout for joy if a doctor assures us that is we had to get cancer we at least got the good one?"

A Word from Verywell

Let's face it. No cancer is a "good" cancer. And thyroid cancer, while not one of the more common cancers, is also one of the few cancers that is on the rise in the population. 

As more people are diagnosed, thyroid cancer patients need to deal with a number of life-changing issues. Most thyroid cancer patients require surgery, radioactive iodine treatment, periodic scanning for cancer recurrence, and a lifetime of thyroid hormone replacement medication to treat the lifelong hypothyroidism that results from having the thyroid surgically removed.

The medical community needs to seriously consider a more patient-oriented change in terminology. Instead of saying thyroid cancer is the "good cancer," they would meet with far less resistance and cause much less concern and aggravation to patients by saying "thyroid cancer usually has an excellent prognosis."


American Cancer Society