Thyroid Cancer Treatment Options

The good news is that there are many treatment options available to people with thyroid cancer. Usually, treatment begins within a few weeks after the diagnosis, but you will have time to talk with your doctor about treatment choices and get a second opinion.

The choice of treatment depends on:

  • The type of thyroid cancer (papillary, follicular, medullary, or anaplastic)
  • The size of the nodule
  • Your age
  • Whether the cancer has spread
  • Your personal needs

Your RMCC oncologist is a wonderful resource for learning about your treatment choices and the expected results. Currently, there are six types of standard thyroid cancer treatments that may be used alone or combined together. There are also new types of treatments including immunotherapy, being tested in clinical trials.

Thyroid cancer may be treated with: 

  1. Surgery – Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. One of the following procedures may be used:
    1. Lobectomy: Removal of the lobe in which thyroid cancer is found. Lymph nodes near the cancer may also be removed and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
    2. Near-total thyroidectomy: Removal of all but a very small part of the thyroid. Lymph nodes near the cancer may also be removed and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
    3. Total thyroidectomy: Removal of the whole thyroid. Lymph nodes near the cancer may also be removed and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  2. Thyroid hormone therapy – Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. In the treatment of thyroid cancer, drugs may be given to prevent the body from making thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), a hormone that can increase the chance that thyroid cancer will grow or recur.
  3. Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation may be given in the following ways: 
    1. External radiation therapy, which uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the area of the body with cancer, is the most common type of radiation therapy used for thyroid cancer. 
    2. Radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy. RAI is taken by mouth and collects in any remaining thyroid tissue, including thyroid cancer cells that have spread to other places in the body. Since only thyroid tissue takes up iodine, the RAI destroys thyroid tissue and thyroid cancer cells without harming other tissue. Before a full treatment dose of RAI is given, a small test-dose is given to see if the tumor takes up the iodine.
  4. Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. 
  5. Targeted therapy – Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Examples of FDA-approved targeted therapies include sorafenib (Nexavar), lenvatinib (Lenvima, E7080), vandetanib tablets (Caprelsa, zd6474), cabozantinib (Cometriq, Cabometyx, XL184), dabrafenib (Tafinlar), and trametinib (Mekinist).
  6. Watchful waiting – Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change.

In order to receive optimal results, your RMCC oncologist may recommend a combination of treatments.