Thyroid cancer is fairly rare. And thanks to very good treatments, it can be cured most of the time.
The type of treatment you get depends on what kind of thyroid cancer you have, and if it has spread. Most people are treated with surgery alone, or with a combination of surgery and radioactive iodine.
If you have side effects from treatment, there are ways to manage them that will help you feel better.
Thyroid surgery involves removing either part or all of the gland (thyroidectomy). In some cases, lymph nodes may also need to be removed.
It’s not unusual to feel tired or sore for a few days after surgery. But pain medicines prescribed by your doctor can help.
You may have some aches and pains in the neck and shoulders after surgery.
This usually goes away in a few weeks. In the meantime, your doctor can advise you about exercises to help relieve any stiffness. Some research shows that stretching exercises are very helpful and even reduce the need for pain medicine.
Getting enough rest, eating well, drinking fluids, and walking will also go a long way in your recovery.
You'll be able to eat and drink as usual after the procedure. Most people who have their thyroid removed stay in the hospital about 24 hours.
When you go home, you can usually return to normal activity within 10 days or so.
Thyroid Hormone Replacement
Since thyroid cancer surgery removes the cancer, it also affects the way the thyroid will do its job of making thyroid hormone. If your entire thyroid was removed, you will need medicine to replace the natural thyroid hormone.
Most do very well with thyroid hormone therapy. But the key is to find the right dosage for you at all stages of your life. Too much may cause you to have cramps or a rapid heart rate, and to feel hot or sweaty. With too little, you may feel cold and worn out. Your doctor will adjust dosage based on results of blood tests. Make sure you talk to your doctor about how you feel so any changes to your treatment can be made.
Radioactive Iodine Treatment
Surgery often gets rid of thyroid cancer. But depending on the type of thyroid cancer you have, or if it has spread, your doctor may also suggest you have treatment with radioactive iodine.
This is done to get rid of any cancer cells that were not caught during surgery, and to help keep the cancer from coming back.
Some people experience side effects from treatment, but these problems usually only last a short time.
- If you have neck tenderness, over-the-counter pain relievers usually help.
- Dental issues like dry mouth can also be a side effect. There are sprays and gels that help with this. Dry mouth can also cause tooth decay, so make sure to brush and floss regularly and visit your dentist if you have it.
- If your mouth feels tender, avoid harsh toothpastes and mouthwashes (the kind that whiten your teeth or contain alcohol, for example). Switch to something more gentle, or even make your own. For example, stir some baking soda in water for a mouthwash.
- Your salivary glands might swell and hurt. It might only last a few minutes, or it could be longer, and it might happen more than once. You can gently massage the area, but if that doesn’t help, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for help.
- Your eyes might not produce as many tears. It may help if you wear your glasses instead of contacts for a few days after each treatment.
Most people recover well from thyroid cancer treatment. But during treatment, you may want to consider a cancer support group.
Even with lots of help from family and friends, you might want to check out support groups in your area. One of the main reasons people join is to be with others who face the same type of cancer.
Some research shows that cancer support groups not only help you feel more hopeful, but also help you deal better with side effects.
American Cancer Society: “Thyroid Cancer.”
American Thyroid Association: "Thyroid Cancer (Papillary and Follicular)."
Mayo Clinic: “Thyroidectomy.”
Cancer Research UK: “Living Life after Thyroid Surgery.”
WorldJournal of Surgery:“Stretching exercises to reduce symptoms of postoperative neck discomfort after thyroid surgery: prospective randomized study.”
Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc.: “Delayed Salivary Gland Pain and Swelling after RAI.”
National Cancer Institute: “What You Need To Know About Thyroid Cancer.”
Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal:“ Hormone Replacement in Patients Following Thyroidectomy for Thyroid Cancer.”
University of Utah Healthcare: “Thyroid Cancer: Radioactive Iodine Cancer.”