There are several treatment options for thyroid cancer, depending on the type, size of the nodule, patient’s age and whether the cancer has spread.
- Most people with thyroid cancer have surgery to remove either part (lobectomy
) or all of the thyroid (thyroidectomy
). A lobectomy is more common with follicular or papillary cancer. The surgeon removes the lobe of the thyroid with the nodule and the isthmus (the connecting piece between the two lobes). Some people later have another surgery to remove the rest of the thyroid. A thyroidectomy can be used for all types of cancer. The surgeon removes the entire thyroid through an incision in the neck.
Thyroid Hormone Treatment
- After surgery, nearly everyone needs to take these pills, but they are also used as part of the treatment plan for papillary or follicular cancer. Thyroid hormone pills slow the growth of cancer cells still in the body after surgery.
Radioactive Iodine Therapy
- Radioactive iodine, given as a liquid or capsule that is swallowed, kills thyroid cancer cells and normal thyroid cells that remain in the body after surgery. This is used for papillary or follicular cancer, but medullary and anaplastic cancers rarely respond to this treatment. Most radiation is gone in about a week.
External Radiation Therapy
- This is used for any type of thyroid cancer that can not be treated with surgery or radioactive iodine. A large machine directs radiation at the neck and uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is used for cancer that returns after treatment and to treat bone pain from cancer that has spread.
- This treatment uses drugs, usually given by injection to a vein, to kill cancer cells. It is used to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer, and is sometimes used for symptoms of medullary cancer.
Regular check-ups are necessary after treatment for thyroid cancer to monitor thyroid hormone levels and make sure the disease hasn’t returned. Your doctor will use blood tests and imaging tests to monitor your recovery and make sure cancer has not returned. If thyroid cancer comes back, it is often found in the neck, lungs, or bones.
Overall, the prognosis for thyroid cancer is very good. Patients with papillary carcinoma who have a primary tumor that is confined to the thyroid gland itself have an excellent outlook. The prognosis is not quite as good in patients over the age of 40 and in patients with tumors larger than 4 centimeters in diameter. Patients who are unable to be cured of thyroid cancer are often able to live a long time and feel well despite their cancer.