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Unusual Cancers of Childhood (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Unusual Cancers of the Head and Neck



The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:

  • Whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body at diagnosis.
  • The size of the tumor.


Treatment of thyroid tumors in children may include the following:

  • Surgery to remove most or all of the thyroid gland and lymph nodes with cancer, followed by radioactive iodine (RAI) to kill any thyroid cancer cells that are left. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is given to make up for the lost thyroid hormone.
  • Surgery to remove the lobe in which thyroid cancer is found, followed by HRT to make up for the lost thyroid hormone.
  • Radioactive iodine (RAI) for cancer that has recurred (come back).
  • Targeted therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) or vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors (VEGFs) for cancer that has spread to other parts of the body or that has recurred.
  • A clinical trial of targeted therapy.

Four to six weeks after surgery a radioactive iodine scan (RAI scan) is done to find areas in the body where thyroid cancer cells that were not removed during surgery may be dividing quickly. RAI is used because only thyroid cells take up iodine. A very small amount of RAI is swallowed, travels through the blood, and collects in thyroid tissue and thyroid cancer cells anywhere in the body. If no cancer cells are found, a larger dose of RAI is given to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue. If cancer remains in the lymph nodes or has spread to other parts of the body, an even larger dose of RAI is given to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue and thyroid cancer cells.

It is common for thyroid cancer to recur, especially in children younger than 10 years and those with cancer in the lymph nodes. Lifelong follow-up of thyroid hormone levels in the blood is needed to make sure the right amount of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is being given. It is possible that thyroid cancer will spread to the lung later. Tests are done to check for thyroid cancer in the lung.

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