Your doctor stages your thyroid tumor in order to develop the most effective treatment plan. Thyroid cancer treatment almost always includes surgery, although the type of surgery is influenced by the patient's age and tumor size. Some small thyroid cancer tumors are cured only with surgery.
The nonsurgical treatments summarized below may or may not be included with your thyroid cancer treatment plan.
Radioactive Iodine Therapy
Surgery may be followed by systemic radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy to destroy thyroid tissue, usually a few cells, which were not surgically removed. Thyrogen® may be administered prior to radiative iodine therapy. Your treatment team usually includes a nuclear medicine specialist or endocrinologist, who administers the therapy as a pill. The iodine enters the bloodstream selectively destroys any remaining thyroid tissue and cancer cells. Thyroid cells are the main cells in the body that absorb iodine, so the radioactive iodine does not affect any other cells.
External radiation, or external-beam, therapy is the most common type and is received as an outpatient. The purpose of treatment is to kill cancer cells, shrink the tumor, and relieve symptoms using high-energy radiation. However, external radiation is used in only rare situations for thyroid cancer.
Chemotherapy uses chemical agents (drugs) to destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy kills cancerous and normal cells. Chemo is a systemic treatment—that means this treatment is given by pill, or injected into a vein (IV). This treatment is called systemic because the drug enters the bloodstream and circulates throughout the entire body. Sometimes chemotherapy is combined with external-beam radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is very rarely used to treat thyroid cancer, except for very aggressive cancers such as anaplastic thyroid cancer.
Depending on the type of thyroid cancer and the treatment chosen, a whole-body thyroid scan may be performed to help measure therapy progress. This type of test can help detect if tge cancer has spread.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
It is normal to feel anxious, apprehensive, and even depressed, as you're going through thyroid cancer treatment. Alternative therapies can help you feel better and change your focus to try and gain a more positive outlook. Many patients have found music, artistic self-expression or journaling, beneficial. Visualization, meditation, and/or mind-body methods, such as Tai Chi or yoga can help enhance your ability to get through the procedures.
About the Author: Bridget Brady, MD, FACS is the first fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon in Austin, Texas. She has a passion for and expertise in disease of the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Dr. Brady has performed thousands of thyroidectomies and parathryoidectomies with a focus on minimally invasive techniques to optimize patients’ medical and cosmetic outcomes.
2015 American Thyroid Association Management Guidelines for Adult Patients with Thyroid Nodules and Differentiated Thyroid Cancer: The American Thyroid Association Guidelines Task Force on Thyroid Nodules and Differentiated Thyroid Cancer Haugen, Alexander, et al., Thyroid. 2016, 26(1):1-133. Accessed August 5, 2016.
What is Radioiodine (I -131) therapy page. RadiologyInfo Web site. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?PG=radioiodine. 2010. Accessed January 18, 2010.