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Thyroid Cancer - Medications

Although thyroid cancer is generally treated with surgery, medicines may also be needed to treat the cancer and to replace thyroid hormones.

Medicine choices

Medicines to treat thyroid cancer include:

  • Radioactive iodine, which is used after surgery to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue.
  • TSH suppression therapy to reduce the TSH in your body. This slows the growth of any remaining cancer cells.
  • Thyroid hormone medicine to replace necessary thyroid hormones that are made by your thyroid gland. If your thyroid gland is surgically removed, you will likely need to take thyroid replacement pills for the rest of your life.
  • Chemotherapy, which sometimes is used to treat thyroid cancer that has come back after surgery and to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer that does not respond to radioactive iodine.
  • Targeted therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), such as sorafenib and sunitinib. Targeted therapy with TKIs is being studied in clinical trials.

After you have your thyroid surgically removed, you may have to wait several weeks before you have radioactive iodine treatment to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue. During the waiting period, you may have symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue, weakness, weight gain, depression, memory problems, or constipation.

Your doctor may also put you on a low-iodine diet before treating you with radioactive iodine. If you are on a low-iodine diet, you cannot eat foods that contain a lot of iodine, such as iodized salt, seafood, and baked goods. Depleting your body of iodine may make radioactive iodine treatment more effective, because your cells become "hungry" for iodine.

After surgery, you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of your life. Taking these pills rarely causes side effects if you are taking the right amount. But too much thyroid hormone can cause you to feel hot and sweaty. It can also cause weight loss, a fast heart rate, chest pain, cramps, or diarrhea. And too little thyroid hormone can cause you to feel cold and tired. It can also cause weight gain, dry skin, or dry hair.1

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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