3 Typical Options for Treating Thyroid Cancer

May 7th 2016

Talk to your doctor or cancer treatment team to find the best options for your specific cancer case. Take the time to consider recommended treatment options before making a decision, and be sure to ask about complications, side effects and other concerns. The goal of the treatment may be to cure the cancer or to relieve symptoms in more advanced cases, so take this into consideration when making a decision.


Surgery is normally the primary treatment option for thyroid cancer patients and is performed by a surgical oncologist. The patient may undergo one of several procedures such as a lobectomy, a near-total thyroidectomy, a total thyroidectomy or a lymphadenectomy. If a biopsy reveals that a lobe of the thyroid gland contains cancer cells, that lobe is removed during a lobectomy. A near-total thyroidectomy includes the removal of all but a certain portion of the thyroid gland, and a total thyroidectomy is the complete removal of the gland. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the surgeon performs a lymphadenectomy to remove them. Possible complications of surgery include bleeding, infection and damage to parathyroid glands.

Radiation Therapy

A radiation oncologist performs radioactive iodine therapy, which uses radioactive iodine to seek out and kill cancer cells that remain after surgery. Patients must receive a test dose before receiving a full dose of iodine in liquid or pill form, and large doses may lead to infertility. Before undergoing treatment, patients must follow a low-iodine diet as specified by a doctor. Radioactive iodine therapy is an option for the majority of patients with follicular or papillary thyroid cancer. External-beam radiation therapy is another common technique that uses high-energy X-ray beams to kill cancer cells. A radiation oncologist performs this therapy over the course of several weeks, often on an outpatient basis.

Thyroid Hormone Therapy

Hormone treatment is necessary for patients with medullary, follicular and papillary thyroid cancers to both replace lost thyroid hormones and slow the growth of any remaining cancer cells. Patients generally take the hormone replacement levothyroxine as a pill at the same time every day to supply a consistent level of hormones. Side effects may include rash and hair loss, and patients may experience symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Patients receive regular blood tests to monitor their hormone levels.


Treatment options for thyroid cancer depend on the stage and type of the disease as well as the patient's personal preferences, and a multiple-disciplinary team of health care professionals normally works together to help the patient choose the most effective course. Although options include chemotherapy and targeted therapy, typical treatments for thyroid cancer include surgery, radiation treatment and hormone therapy.

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