Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association 2017 10 0527(11) 1417-1423 doi 10.1089/thy.2017.0346
Despite a good prognosis, fear of recurrence is prevalent, even several years after a diagnosis of differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC). For this reason, the aim of this study was to make an in-depth exploration of anxiety, sources of anxiety, and protective strategies.
In order to capture a broad description of the phenomenon, a purposeful, maximum variation sampling strategy regarding age, sex, stage of disease, educational level, and time since diagnosis was used. In total, 21 patients were included in the study. Semi-structured interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed with a qualitative content analysis.
Patients with and without recurrences narrated a picture indicating anxiety related to their current situation; future risks and threats were central to this picture. However, they initially minimized or even denied having anxiety, but subsequently described it as a major problem at the end of the interviews. Anxiety was related to risk of recurrence and the risk of developing other cancers, but also to fears of a future situation where no further treatment options were available. Previous experiences of delayed investigations added to these fears. In order to cope, patients developed protective strategies in order to keep evasive and frightening thoughts away. Everyday life, distractions, and focusing on "the small things in life" were examples of such strategies.
Anxiety is a common, although partially hidden, problem in DTC survivors, as they tended to deny it early in the dialogues. As anxiety is clearly related to follow-up routines, these should therefore be revaluated.