Category Archives: Hurthle Cell

It’s the good kind….Really!

“The Good Kind” is a catch phrase/byword in the thyroid cancer world.  Thyroid cancer (thyca) in general and Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma (PTC–which makes up about 75% of thyca) specifically are known as “The good kind” of cancer or, “if you’re going to have cancer, that’s the kind of cancer to have.”  There’s a reason for that….the survival rate for PTC is better than just about any other kind of cancer out there.  Some question whether it should really even count as cancer.

I know that some people hate this generally optimistic feeling about thyroid cancer, mostly because they feel that it minimizes their fears and the difficulties that treatment involves for them personally.  Also, there are some types of thyca that are not nearly as easy to treat as PTC and whose outlooks are not nearly as favorable.

So today I found out I had Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, not Hurthle Cell Carcinoma, as I feared. And my first reaction when I saw that lab report was relief.  Because I know that PTC actually is “the good kind.”  Because HCC was really a scary thought for me.

Wanna know the crazy part?  The PTC was in that ugly looking nodule with the calcifications, the one that I originally “knew” had to be cancer.  The one that tested benign on FNA and frozen section.  The Hurthle cell lesion was just a big lump in a lumpy gland.

I guess that’s my only real whine at this point.  Why couldn’t we have just found it on the first biopsy and gotten all the surgery over to begin with?

Possible reasons:

  • I needed, for some reason, to not go around knowing I had cancer in my body for that period of time from FNA to first surgery–It was better to find out after it was out.
  • I needed time to work on a gentle weaning process for Eleanor.  More on that later…
  • I needed to be really afraid of having HCC so that PTC wouldn’t seem bad at all to me.
  • Something I haven’t even thought of yet.

Whatever the reason, I am going to trust my journey because I trust my Guide.  He knows what I need and what I can handle.

He answered my prayer to be spared HCC. He let me have a big benign lump in a visible place so that I could find the cancer that was hidden farther back in the gland.

I embrace the label “The Good Kind,” because this is NOT my mother’s cancer.

Ok, so here are the details:

  • PTC Nodule was 1.2 cm.
  • It was completely encapsulated.
  • It had no vascular invasion.
  • It was widely invasive of the capsule. (So glad it is O-U-T!)
  • It looks to be unifocal and confined to the thyroid. (That would make it stage I. This could change after the findings of the 2nd surgery.)
  • Also, I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (or at least I do for the next few weeks.  I think surgery will “cure” me!)

Here’s the plan:

  • Have a great VBS.
  • Go to camp and have a GREAT time!
  • 7/11, have the rest of my thyroid removed.
  • recover
  • meet with the nuclear medicine doctor and talk about whether or not I need RAI.

Somewhere in that plan I need to include finishing Eleanor’s weaning.  Rusty got up with her this morning (bright and early) and fed her some breakfast before I made an appearance.  She has asked me to nurse a couple of times, but I have been able to put her off so far.  We’re going to see how far we can go with this.  I may go get my nail polish in a minute and work on my own toenails, and see if she wants me to do hers.

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The next thing I remember…

Surgery went really well. My nurses were all super sweet. And it wasn’t crowded or backed up like I thought it would be. W, C, P, and J came and hung out with Rusty while I was in surgery. I was so glad he didn’t have to sit in the waiting room alone.

In preop, they got me situated–stripped, gowned, I.V.’d, etc– and then called Rusty back to be with me. We hung out while they gave me my first and second dose of sedative. I don’t remember much after that…Rusty says he kissed me as I left.

I have a foggy memory of them shifting me to the operating table.  After that, the next thing I remember a nurse in post op saying, “It’s all done, and it’s benign!”

That’s the only thing that has bothered me about the whole process. To be told, “It’s benign,” the instant I wake up, when really, we won’t know that until final pathology is done, seems PROFOUNDLY irresponsible. It wasn’t the nurse’s fault. She was repeating what she’d been told.

Dr. B was also very positive when he spoke with Rusty after surgery. Which was fine, given that surgery went so well. But he basically led Rusty to believe that all worries are over. And I hope they are, but I won’t be able to rest completely easy until that final report is back.

I wanted to talk to Dr. B myself to see if there was something he saw during surgery that led him to believe that all worries were over, like maybe if the Hurthle cell lesion was unencapsulated, which would suggest benign metaplasia. Fortunately, he came by to see me this morning, so I got my chance.

Just as I thought, when he said, “benign,” what he meant was no malignancy found on the frozen section samples during surgery. Then he told me they were 90% accurate.  Which is misleading. Because when they find malignancy in a Hurthle cell or follicular neoplasm, frozen section testing is very accurate. But for those two kinds of thyroid lesions, frozen section analysis has only a 20-40% sensitivity. That means that it fails to catch 60-80% of malignancies.

That’s because frozen section testing only looks at a few samples from the tumor, and if there is capsular or vascular invasion at even one point, the lesion is malignant. I’m not even sure why they do it, to be honest.

So I asked Dr. B if it was encapsulated, and he said that it looked like it, but he only final pathology will tell for sure. Which is what I thought. I just hate that we probably got some people’s hopes up prematurely. But maybe those hopes will be fulfilled, and they need never be the wiser.

So the words we are hoping for now are “Hurthle cell adenoma.”

My dear friend J stayed all night with me. We were able to catch up, and she pampered me, rubbing my calves where they were sore from the compression stockings they used during surgery.

The boys, of course did fine with Aunt Sharon, and so did Eleanor, for which I was SO thankful. She slept late yesterday morning, which made it possible to skip her nap, completely avoiding that sticky wicket. Then because she was sleepy, bedtime was a breeze.  And getting up this morning she was a little sensitive, but got through it ok.

She has not nursed all day, although she has asked a time or two since I’ve been home. I wonder if I’ll be able to just cruise on out and be done with it. The morning will be the test, I think.

I am so thankful to the Lord for helping things go so well. And also for all the good friends and family he has blessed me with, who have helped me and prayed for me through it all. May all our prayers be answered with a benign final result.

Trying to stay research-free

We are at the beach for an extra long weekend getaway, which means I am writing this on my phone.  I have been trying really hard to stay research-free, with mixed success. The past few days have been good, and I have made a personal vow to myself not to look up anything related to my thyroid issues at least while we are on vacation.

That said, I did go on a PubMed binge several days ago (before vacation), and I learned a few more things that I wanted to make note of here.

One is that “hemosiderin laden macrophages” can occur in HCC. (ETA: Here’s the article.).  So, in terms of my Hurthle cell lesion, it doesn’t, as I previously believed, matter if my macrophages have hemosiderin or not.

Also, I had previously read an abstract that listed “absence of inflammation” as an increased risk factor for malignancy in Hurthle cell lesions. I thought this was a food sign for me, since I know my thyroid has inflammatory cells (lymphocytes) in it. But I found the full text of the article, and what “absence of inflammation” meant in their study was an absence of inflammatory cells within the lesion. Well, as far as my FNA report goes, there aren’t any inflammatory cells in my Hurthle cell lesion, so that is no longer a factor in my favor.

I feel like these two findings tip the needle a little away from the benign side, but not necessarily more towards the malignant side, if that is even possible or makes sense. I’m not sure it does.

The fact is that I feel mostly like I will have the surgery, get a benign diagnosis (maybe including Hashimoto’s and/or multi-modular goiter) and go on my merry way. I know that things may go a different direction, and I am trying to be prepared for that possibility without dwelling on it or inviting it into my life.

Weaning is still not going great. We are going to try to use the change of routine during this vacation to eliminate nap-time nursing.  Then we’ll be down to just first thing in the morning.

Later.

Macrophages

Ok, so I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I HAD to keep on researching.

Let me back up.  Here is the word-for-word write up of FNA of the the larger nodule on the isthmus of my thyroid:

Hurthle cell lesion–see comment

COMMENT:

The specimen consists of numerous Hurthle cells and fragments of Hurthle cell epithelium, with a population of macrophages.  The differential diagnosis includes Hurthle cell change in a background of thyroiditis or a hyperplastic colloid nodule versus a Hurthle cell neoplasm.  Clinical correlation recommended and follow up as indicated.

So that actually didn’t sound too bad, especially the idea that it could be “Hurthle cell change in a background of thyroiditis.”

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I wanted to know what, if any, meaning the macrophages had.  I had some vague memory that macrophages were immune cells, maybe a type of white blood cell?  I knew that certain cell types like lymphocytes tended to point towards a benign nodule.  So I went looking, using “macrophage” as a term in combination with “Hurthle cell lesion,” “Hurthle cell adenoma,” “Hurthle cell FNA,” etc. ad nauseum.

I found one case study in which two different patients had similar FNA samples that included Hurthle Cells and macrophages.  One ended up being a Hurthle Cell Adenoma (benign) and the other a Hurthle Cell Carcinoma (malignant).  So I know that macrophages could be present in either.

Then, for whatever reason, I searched for “macrophage thyroid cancer.”  From that I learned that macrophages are generally present in tumors (benign or malignant) and that a certain type of macrophage, known as a Tumor-Associated-Macrophages can sometimes make up up to 50% of a tumor, and that their actions tends to help the tumor grow and spread.

I found this article.  The title alone almost sent me into a panic attack.

I had a little freak out moment, feeling SURE that the “population of macrophages” meant my nodule is FOR SURE cancer. I have reeled it in a bit, and I’m now back to the recognition that “tumor-associated” doesn’t have to mean “cancer-associated,” and that, once again, I cannot find out if my nodule is cancer or not by doing research.  Still, I am not comforted.

I’ve also learned that “hemosiderin-laden” macrophages are usually associated with benign tumors; they “digest” red blood cells when a colloid nodule (always or almost always benign, from what I understand) undergoes “hemorrhagic decay”.  My FNA report didn’t say whether the macrophages were “hemosiderin-laden” or not.  So I really have no idea where I stand.

Before I made my macrophage discovery, I sent Dr. B an email to ask how long surgery should take (45 minutes to an hour)  and where pathology would be done (right here in our local hospital).  I have now looked up the pathologists on staff and am considering sending them gift baskets the day before my surgery, to make sure they do top-notch work for me.

Also, my sweet, sweet Aunt Sharon has said that if I need her, she can come for a few days.  We are going to play it by ear to see how things go.  And UK is in Uganda, preaching.  Love it.

Ok, I REALLY, REALLY need to forget all about this until maybe a few days before June 7th!  Although, I think it would be good to work on some things that would be helpful to accomplish before surgery. I am going to put my “folder” (containing my lab reports, surgery instructions, etc.)  somewhere out-of-the-way.

Should I Google “Hashimoto’s macrophage,” just to make myself feel better?  You see how sick I am?

ETA:  I did Google some more.  I am back to the realization–full realization, not just what I’m telling myself to think–that macrophages don’t mean I have cancer, and very well could point to a Hurthle Cell Lesion associated with Hashimoto’s.    Must.  Stop.  Googling.

Surgery Scheduled

Rusty went with me to my follow-up appointment with Dr. B on Tuesday.

Dr. B is going to take out the right side of my thyroid on June 7th. That’s a FRIDAY! Which means that Rusty might only have to take off the day of surgery, and maybe no one will have to come and help me.

My friend, A, has been telling me how easy her surgery was (she had the same surgery I am scheduled for), how little pain she had, and how quickly she was able to do her normal activities. Praying for a similar experience.

Dr. B does the “minimally invasive” version of the surgery, which should mean a smaller scar. They will also do initial pathology while I am in surgery, with full pathology completed afterwards. What this means is, there is a possibility they could catch a cancer before they close me up, enabling them to do a complete thyroidectomy without a second surgery. What I have read is that this pathology procedure catches about half of the cancers. The other half would have to come back for a second operation.

I was pleased that Dr. B didn’t think I needed the left lobe out at this point. He said that it looks “almost” normal. I just REALLY don’t want to be thyroid-free if it isn’t necessary.

He said that he didn’t think I will need an endocrinologist going forward, but if he thinks I am going to go around with less than half a thyroid in my neck and NOT see an endo, he has another think coming. :) I talked to S at Bible study last night, and she likes her endo a lot. She suggested I might want to see an endo before having half my thyroid out, but I’m pretty sure that no matter who I see, this is the path in front of me.

Ok, so I feel like we are doing the right thing–taking the best next step.

However, is it ok to say that I am still a little disappointed in my care? Here’s the part where I get whiny. If you would like to skip the rest of this entry, I promise I won’t get my feelings hurt. :)

Whine #1–The pathologist who looked at my FNA samples only made two slides per sample. At some labs, six slides is considered a minimum. Maybe that won’t make a difference, but two just doesn’t seem very thorough.

Whine #2–When Dr. B sent my FNA samples off, he didn’t include ANY clinical history (i.e., sample is from a mixed solid/cystic nodule measuring 2.8x 1.3x 2.9 cm), which is supposed to help the pathologist make a more accurate assessment of what he or she is looking at.

Why I am not going to make a fuss about this: Both nodules are coming OUT in less than a month. So if they’re baddies, they’ll be gone and they can find out for sure after they are out. A Hurthle Cell Lesion has to come out anyway.

A couple more interesting factoids about Hurthle Cell Lesions:

I have read conflicting reports that their malignancy rate is somewhere between 13% and 35%. That’s a pretty big range. I am banking on being under 40, having a lump smaller than 4 cm, and having (possible) Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. (Dr. B says it can’t be diagnosed by biopsy–but that’s not what I’ve read. Yet another reason to go see an Endo. Dr. S, here I come! After all this surgery hullabaloo is over.)

Interestingly, lumps diagnosed as Hurthle Cell Lesions that turn out to be malignant often are not Hurthle Cell Carcinoma. They can be any of the other kinds of Thyroid cancer–Papillary, Follicular, etc.

Enough for now. I am going to try REALLY HARD to quit thinking about this whole thing until my surgery gets here.

Note to self:

You can read and re-read all the journal articles about what percentages of Hurthle Cell Lesions are cancerous and what percentage are not.  You can memorize all the factors that predict whether a HCL/N is cancerous or not.  But NONE OF THAT can tell you whether your particular lump is malignant or not.  Only surgery and a good pathologist can make that determination.  YOU ARE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO WAIT TO FIND OUT. STARING AT SCHOLARLY WRITE-UPS ON YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN IS JUST GOING TO GIVE YOU A CRICK.  SO GO TO BED ALREADY.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about Hurthle Cells

T minus 2 days until my follow-up appointment with Dr. B. I wanted to compile a summary of what I’ve learned about Hurthle Cells and “Hurthle Cell Lesions,” because I know from experience that although all of this info is really fresh in my mind right now, I will forget it.  And it will be convenient to have it all here in one stash.  I’d like to make a disclaimer ahead of time, just in case this blog ever goes live:  I am not a doctor, or a scientist.  What follows is my understanding based on the research I have done over the past two weeks.  (If two weeks isn’t long enough to make me an expert on Abnormal Cells of the Thyroid, what would be?)

Hurthle Cells are, by definition, abnormal.  From what I have read, there are some theories about why they form, but no one knows for sure. One of the main theories is that they are follicular cells that have transformed due to stress.   They are frequently (some say always) seen in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition in which the body’s immune system starts attacking the thyroid gland for unknown reasons. They are extra large and full of lots more than normal mitochondria, which gives them a grainy appearance under the microscope.  The mechanism for apoptosis–the process by which abnormal cells know they are abnormal and cause themselves to self-destruct, doesn’t seem to work for Hurthle cells.  Also, unlike most other cells in the thyroid, most Hurthle cells (most sources say around 90%) have lost their ability to take up iodine, which means that RAI isn’t usually effective against Hurthle cell cancers.  On the other hand, theydo produce Thyroglobulin, which makes this a useful marker for recurrence in Hurthle cell cancers, but only if the thyroid is completely removed by surgery and completely nuked by RAI.  Ok, that’s it!

Actually, there is some information about biochemical processes and genetic mutations that I haven’t absorbed yet.  I’m not convinced I need to know all that stuff, since I don’t plan on doing any clinical research on Hurthle Cells.

A “Hurthle Cell Lesion,” what I have, is a group of Hurthle Cells that have all decided to hang out together in one part of the thyroid gland.  If the lesion is composed of more than 75% Hurthle cells, and it’s encapsulated with a distinct border separating it from the rest of the gland, it’s called a “neoplasm,” or tumor.

So here’s the thing.  They can tell from FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration) if the lump/nodule/lesion is composed of mostly Hurthle Cells.  I think they can tell from ultrasound if it’s encapsulated (this is one thing I want to ask about at my appointment on Tuesday).  But they can’t tell if it’s cancer (carcinoma) or not (adenoma) without taking it out.  That’s because most Hurthle cell tumors and lesions just sit there, doing mostly nothing. They aren’t aggressive, they don’t try to proselytize or set up colonies in other parts of the body.  The only way to tell the difference between a benign Hurthle Cell tumor (adenoma) and a malignant one (carcinoma) is to take it out and dissect it, to see if it’s trying to invade the rest of the thyroid through the capsule wall (capsular invasion) or if it’s trying to invade the blood stream (vascular invasion).  If it is doing either (or both) of those things, it’s classified as cancer, or “Hurthle Cell Carcinoma.”  (HCC)

Hurthle Cell Carcinomas tend to occur in people over 50 (not me) with nodules larger than 4 cm (also not me) who do not have inflammation–like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (also not me, since I DO have inflammation).  So all of those things are WAY in my favor. Yay!  Their prognosis is not as good as for people who have Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma (PTC, also known as “the good cancer,” because of its amazingly high cure rate) or Follicular Thyroid Carcinoma (FTC, only slightly less “good” than PTC), but some people feel that this has more to do with the fact that it usually occurs in an older population than with the actual characteristics of HCC.

Here’s something else.  Hurthle Cell Carcinomas are really, really rare.  So rare that when you go looking for info about Hurthle Cell cancers, because your doctor did a biopsy on your thyroid and found Hurthle Cells, and you are freaking out, trying to figure out what on earth a Hurthle cell is and if you should be worried or not, what you will mostly find is scholarly journal articles.  Maybe a few posts on message boards.

The books about thyroid problems and even about thyroid cancers might have a sentence or two about friendly Hurthle Cells and their malicious carcinoma counterparts.  Maybe even up to a paragraph.  What they will mostly say is that Hurthle Cell Carcinomas are like Follicular Carcinomas, except that they don’t usually take up RAI, and they tend to metastasize more aggressively.

Those bloggers and memoirists (is that even a word?) who write about their thyroid cancer journeys almost all have Papillary Carcinoma (PTC), because 75-80% of thyroid cancers are Papillary.  I might have found one person with a thyroid cancer story whose thyroid cancer was of a Hurthle cell variety.  I’m actually about to go see if I can find that blog again… ETA:  I did find that blog by the guy I thought had HCC, but he didn’t; he had PTC.  But I also found this guy, who has written a very nice blog about his HCC journey.

Ok, so there are probably a few more details that I could cram in here (PTC variants, etc.), but I am not sure I could do them justice.  If you want to read a scholarly article that covers all of this and more in some detail, try this one.  I have found it to be pretty comprehensive, and I’ve actually printed it out to put in my file with my test results and other paperwork.  You can also get lots of useful articles by googling terms like “Hurthle Cell Adenoma,” “Hurthle Cell Lesion,” and “Hurthle Cell Neoplasm.”