What Are The Treatments for Thyroid Cancer?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 13, 2022
2 min read

There are lots of ways to treat thyroid cancer. The treatment you get will depend on the type and stage of the cancer. It also depends on your age, general health, and other things that are unique to you.

Surgery is the most widely used method to get rid of thyroid cancer. If the entire thyroid gland is removed, It’s called a thyroidectomy. If part of your thyroid gland is removed, the procedure is called a lobectomy.

Your surgery may also include removing lymph nodes in the neck area, and tissue around the thyroid gland. It will depend on the size and location of the tumor.

The thyroid gland and most thyroid cancers absorb iodine. Radioactive iodine (RAI) ablation is used to destroy any thyroid tissue that’s left after a thyroidectomy. The iodine goes to the thyroid tissue and the radiation destroys it. It may also be used for cancer that spreads to nearby lymph nodes, spreads to other parts of the body, or returns.The level of radiation in this treatment is far higher than what is used in a radioiodine scan.

You may have a special diet that is low in iodine for 1 or 2 weeks before you get the treatment. If you take thyroid hormone pills, you may have to stop taking them for a while.

If all of your thyroid gland was removed, you’ll take thyroid hormone pills. The pills also help stop leftover cancer cells from growing and returning. They do this by lowering the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH is made by your pituitary gland. It tells your thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. But it also encourages growth of the cancer.

These treatments are mostly used for thyroid cancers that are less common or more advanced:

External beam radiation, or X-ray therapy, uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. It is very carefully delivered to protect the rest of your body as much as possible. You’ll get radiation therapy over several weeks.

Chemotherapy, or chemo, means using chemicals for treatment. For cancer, the medicines attack and kill fast-growing cells, like cancer cells. You may get pills, shots, or intravenous (IV) chemo. It has side effects, but your doctor will help you to manage them.

Targeted therapy is a newer treatment that targets only certain parts of cancer cells, to slow or stop growth. This is normally taken in pill form. Usually, there are fewer side effects than with chemotherapy.

If you get a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, your doctor will help you figure out the best treatment. They’ll explain the benefits and tell you about the risks.