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.
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.
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
Calling your health care provider
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 strong family histories and genetic mutations related to thyroid cancer will have their thyroid gland removed for preventive purposes.
Cooper DS, Doherty GM, Haugen BR et al. Revised American Thyroid Association management guidelines for patients with thyroid nodules and differentiated thyroid cancer. Thyroid. 2009;19:1167-1214.
Lal G, O'Dorisio T, McDougall R, Weigel RJ. Cancer of the endocrine system. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2008:chap 75.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Thyroid Carcinoma. Version 1.2013. Available at http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/PDF/thyroid.pdf. Accessed 03/11/2013
Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Blackman, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.