Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer

Updated at: Jan 21, 2013
Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer
Dr Poonam Sachdev
CancerWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Dec 09, 2011

Thyroid cancer is easily curable. If the cancer is not curable, the aim of the treatment will be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible and to prevent the tumour from growing or spreading, thereby increasing life expectancy and maintaining quality of life (such as relieving symptoms, pain or problems with breathing and swallowing).

Treatment options for thyroid cancer include:

  • Surgery.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment.
  • Thyroid hormone therapy.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Chemotherapy.

Treatment of cancer is influenced by factors such as:

  • Stage of the cancer.
  • Location, size and shape of the tumour
  • You age and general health.
  • Your preferences.

Surgery: This is usually the primary therapy for most patients with thyroid cancer. Surgery is done to remove to all or most of the thyroid. The various surgeries done for thyroid cancer include:

  • Thyroidectomy: This surgery removes a part (partial thyroidectomy) or most of the thyroid gland (total thyroidectomy). In most cases, the entire thyroid is removed, but a small rim of thyroid tissue may be left around the parathyroid glands to decrease the chance of damage to the parathyroid glands. Most cases are cured with surgery alone.
  • Lymph node surgery: During surgery for removing the thyroid gland, the regional lymph nodes in the neck may also be removed. These are sent to the laboratory to be checked for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, your doctor will recommend further treatment with radioactive iodine or radiotherapy.

Thyroid hormone therapy: After removal of the thyroid gland, you'll have to take the thyroid hormone medication ‘levothyroxine’ for life. Benefits of hormone therapy are:

  • It gives you the essential missing hormone (thyroid hormone) needed to maintain normal metabolism of the body.
  • Production of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) from pituitary gland is suppressed. High TSH levels can stimulate the growth of any remaining cancer cells.

Your doctor will recommend regular tests to check your thyroid hormone levels in the blood until the dose of medication is adjusted for you.

Radioactive iodine: Radioactive iodine treatment works well for thyroid cancer as any remaining thyroid tissue (both cancerous and healthy thyroid tissue) tends to concentrate iodine. In this therapy, a large dose of a form of iodine that's radioactive is given. The radioactive iodine destroys the remaining healthy thyroid tissue as well as any remaining microscopic areas of thyroid cancer not removed during surgery. This treatment is also effective if the cancer recurs after treatment or spreads to other areas of the body.

External radiation therapy:
Radiation therapy or radiotherapy uses high-powered energy beams (X-rays or other energy beams) to kill or destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours. Radiation therapy is directed at the affected area and the cancer cells are treated or destroyed. In external beam radiation therapy, the radiation is given by a machine placed outside your body. The machine directs the beam of radiation to specific points on your body (in the case of thyroid cancer, the beams are directed to your neck or tissue where the cancer has spread).

Chemotherapy is a mode of cancer treatment, which uses certain drugs to destroy or kill cancer cells. During chemotherapy, the drug is usually given through a vein (intravenous). Chemotherapy is generally not used for thyroid cancer as the response to this treatment is usually not good. It is reserved for people who don't respond to the standard therapies for thyroid cancer.




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