Thyroid cancer: Treatment

Treatment

Treatment varies depending on the type of tumor.

Surgery is usually the treatment of choice, and the entire thyroid gland is usually removed. If the physician suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed during surgery.

Radiation therapy delivered by taking radioactive iodine is often used, with or without surgery. Radiation therapy with an external beam of radiation can also be used.

After treatment, you need to take thyroid hormone to replace what your glands used to make. The dose is usually a little higher than what your body needs, which helps keep the cancer from coming back.

If the cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be used, but this is only effective for a third of patients.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group made up of people who share common experiences and problems. See cancer – support group.

Prognosis (Expectations)

Anaplastic carcinoma has the worst outcome of all the types of thyroid cancer. It is usually fatal despite treatment.

Follicular carcinomas are often fast growing and may invade other tissues, but the outlook is still good — most patients are cured.

The outcome with medullary carcinoma varies. Women under age 40 have a better chance of a good outcome.

Papillary carcinomas are usually slower growing. Most people are cured and have a normal life expectancy.

Many patients who have surgery or radiation for thyroid cancer must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives.

Complications

  • Injury to the voice box or nerve, and hoarseness after surgery
  • Low calcium levels from accidental removal of the parathyroid glands during surgery
  • Spread of the cancer to the lungs, bones, or other parts of the body

Calling Your Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider if you notice a lump in your neck.

Also call if your symptoms get worse during treatment.

Pictures & Images

Endocrine glands


Review Date : 2/12/2009
Reviewed By : David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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