Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Treatment for thyroid cancer

Specific treatment for thyroid tumors will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease. 
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies. 
  • Expectations for the course of the disease. 
  • Your opinion or preference.

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery – to remove all or part of the thyroid. Types of thyroid surgery include the following:
    • Total thyroidectomy – removal of the thyroid and sometimes the nearby lymph nodes.
    • Lobectomy – removal of the lobe with the cancerous nodule. The nearby lymph nodes and part of the remaining thyroid tissue also may be removed.
    • Radioactive iodine therapy (also called radioiodine therapy) – a therapy in which small amounts of radioactive iodine (I-131) is given (usually in a capsule or liquid) to destroy any thyroid cancer cells, those that have not been removed by surgery or have spread to other parts of the body. Radioactive iodine therapy is usually not used to treat medullary or anaplastic thyroid cancer. 
    • External radiation (external beam therapy) – a treatment that precisely sends high levels of radiation directly to the cancer cells. The machine is controlled by the radiation therapist. Since radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors, special shields may be used to protect the tissue surrounding the treatment area. Radiation treatments are painless and usually last a few minutes. 
    • Hormone therapy – hormones are given to kill cancer cells, slow the growth of cancer cells or stop cancer cells from growing. Hormone therapy as a cancer treatment involves taking substances to interfere with the activity of hormones or to stop the production of hormones. Hormone therapy may be used to treat papillary and follicular thyroid cancer. This therapy also may be necessary after surgery or radioactive iodine therapy to replace the natural thyroid hormone. 
    • Chemotherapy – the use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual.

Did you know?
A nodule found in a man’s thyroid is more likely to be cancer than when found in a woman.

What is radioactive iodine treatment?
The thyroid needs iodine to properly produce the thyroid hormones. By administering radioactive iodine to a patient, the thyroid tissue will absorb the altered iodine, which then destroys that thyroid tissue.