Surgery is most often done. The entire thyroid gland is usually removed. If the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed.
Radiation therapy may be done with or without surgery. It may be performed by:
Aiming external beam (x-ray) radiation at the thyroid
Taking radioactive iodine by mouth
After treatment for thyroid cancer, you must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of your life. The dosage is usually slightly higher than what your body needs. This helps keep the cancer from coming back. The pills also replace the thyroid hormone your body needs to function normally.
If the cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation, and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be used. This is only effective for a small number of patients.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Complications of thyroid cancer may include:
Injury to the voice box and hoarseness after thyroid surgery
Low calcium level from accidental removal of the parathyroid glands during surgery
Spread of the cancer to the lungs, bones, or other parts of the body
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you notice a lump in your neck.
There is no known prevention. Awareness of risk (such as previous radiation therapy to the neck) can allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Sometimes, people with family histories and genetic mutations related to thyroid cancer will have their thyroid gland removed to prevent cancer.
Schneider DF, Mazeh H, Lubner SJ, et al. Cancer of the endocrine system. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 71.
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.