Because of advances in diagnosis and treatment of endocrine cancer, a longer and better life is possible for patients today. Treatment planning takes into account the size and location of the tumor, whether it is likely to grow slowly or rapidly, and the general health and age of the patient. Four types of treatments may be used:
Surgery is the most common treatment for endocrine cancer. The goal of the surgery is to completely remove the tumor and a safe margin of the tissue around it. Depending on the outcome of the surgery, the doctor may also recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells and stop their growth. Radiation therapy is generally given in the outpatient department of a hospital or clinic. Most often, patients receive radiation therapy five days a week for five to six weeks.
Hormone therapy uses hormones, usually given as pills, to stop cancer cells from growing. In treating endocrine cancer, hormones can be used to stop the body from making other hormones that might make cancer cells grow.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Some drugs are given by mouth; others are injected into a blood vessel or muscle. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles: a treatment period followed by a rest period, then another treatment period, and so on.
In addition to these treatments, thyroid cancer also has a special treatment that is very specific to this type of cancer. Because the thyroid is the only gland in the body that stores iodine, many thyroid cancers are treat (after surgery) with a radioactive form of iodine, which delivers high doses of radioactivity only to the thyroid cells that can store this molecule.
Patients may also want to talk with the doctor about taking part in a research study, called a clinical trial, involving new treatment methods.