April 9, 2015 | by Denise Heady
"Lucky" is not usually a term used to describe someone diagnosed with cancer. But that's how 34-year-old Alex Camargo's doctor described him when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — the disease is one of the most treatable cancers at all stages.
That doctor was ultimately proved right, but not for the reasons he and Camargo initially thought.
Five-year survival outcomes for Stage 1 and 2 thyroid cancer are nearly 100 percent. Stage 3 has a 93 percent survival rate and Stage 4 has a 51 percent survival rate. “I was told that if I had to be diagnosed with cancer, this was the best cancer I could get, so I wasn’t scared,” Camargo said.
Then the Rialto, California, resident went to a cancer specialist to begin his treatment and discovered that his case wasn’t as simple as he had believed.
The cancer was starting to invade his trachea and larynx (more commonly known as the windpipe and voice box) and move into his lungs. In order to treat the cancer, his doctor told him, Camargo would need to undergo a total laryngectomy, which would leave him with a permanent breathing tube and no voice.
Camargo was stunned. His case wasn’t so simple after all. He had locally advanced thyroid cancer, which makes up only 1 percent of all thyroid cancer cases.
After hearing the treatment plan and prognosis, Camargo’s sister told him he needed a second opinion.
Camargo went to City of Hope and met Ellie Maghami, M.D., the chief of head and neck surgery. Maghami made it her goal not only to treat Camargo's cancer, but to do everything she could to preserve his quality of life.
“Alex is young and otherwise healthy, and we wanted to be able to provide him with an option that would allow him to keep his larynx and avoid a stoma so he could swim, snorkel, scuba dive and do all the things someone his age likes to do,” Maghami said.
While this type of procedure comes with more risks than a laryngectomy, it would save his voice and wouldn’t require him to depend on a breathing tube for the rest of his life.
In a complex laryngotracheal resection, surgeons remove portions of the trachea and larynx, then reconnect the ends, allowing the patient to keep his or her voice box and restoring the continuity of the airway, eliminating the need for a stoma, or artificial opening.
“There are only a few centers in the country that have experience with these operations,” Raz said. “It is important for patients with diseases of the trachea, including thyroid cancer that invades into the windpipe, to come to centers that perform these operations.”
Camargo had the surgery in early January and is still undergoing treatment for the cancer, but is grateful that he took his sister’s advice to seek a second opinion – and that he got the second opinion at City of Hope. In that, he considers himself lucky.
“I’m just so grateful for what Dr. Maghami and Dr. Raz did for me,” he said. "I'm thankful they were able to find a way for me to keep my voice, allowing me to continue communicating with my friends and family."
Learn more about becoming a patient at City of Hope or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.