Even with radioactive iodine therapy and surgery, it's still possible that papillary thyroid cancer (also known as papillary thyroid carcinoma), the cancer may recur. Recurrent thyroid cancer may occur years—even decades—after the initial treatment for the disease. Fortunately, though, recurrent thyroid cancer is treatable.
Patients with stages 1 or 2 thyroid cancer have an 85% chance of reaching complete remission after their initial cancer treatment. The 5-year survival rate is 80% for stage 1 patients and 55% for stage 2. Patients with stage 3 or 4 cancer have similar 5-year survival rates—between 15% and 35%.1
Thyroid cancer is treated, in part, by surgically removing all or part of the thyroid gland, a procedure known as a thyroidectomy. This is followed by radioactive iodine ablation of thyroid cells that may remain after this operation.
The most common sites where recurrent thyroid cancer appears are in the lymph nodes in your neck. Papillary thyroid cancer may also re-develop in other parts of the body, such as the bones and lungs.
To help prevent your papillary thyroid carcinoma from recurring and to catch it early in case it does, your doctor may recommend routine follow-up appointments after your surgery. This generally involves a visit with your endocrinologist or surgeon every 6 months for the first 2 years and then annually thereafter. At each of these visits, a neck ultrasound is done, and tumor markers are obtained. If a recurrence is caught early, the chances of controlling the cancer are higher compared to a late recognition.