Because of advances in diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer, a longer and better life is possible for patients today. Treatment planning takes into account the type of thyroid cancer and the stage of the disease as well as the general health and age of the patient. Four types of treatments may be used:
Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid 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 other therapy, often including radioiodine, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
After surgery to remove the thyroid, all patients need to be treated with replacement thyroid hormone (L-thyroxine, sold under the brand names of Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl and others). This treatment is aimed not only at replacing the hormone that would normally be made from the thyroid gland, but also at suppressing the levels of other hormones in the body that would normally stimulate the thyroid gland to grow and produce hormones.
Radioiodine is a radioactive form of the mineral iodine, which is present in many foods, such as iodized salt and shellfish. Because the thyroid is the only gland in the body that stores iodine, cancer of the gland can be treated with radioiodine, which allows the delivery of a killing dose of radioactivity only to the cells that uptake and store this compound. In many cases, this will kill any thyroid cells not removed by surgery, including any normal cells and any cancer cells.
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.
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.