Thyroid Cancer Treatment Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy for cancer treatment is used to attack and kill cancer cells in the body. As a systemic therapy for cancer, chemotherapy drugs are injected, administered by drip infusion or taken orally, and enter the bloodstream to attack rapidly dividing cancer cells throughout the body. Over 50 different types of chemotherapy drugs are currently in use, so finding the right drug, or combination of drugs, for certain types of thyroid cancer is integral to the treatment process.

Thyroid Cancer Chemotherapy

Most commonly used for anaplastic thyroid cancer, chemotherapy is rarely employed for the more common — and more treatable — forms of the disease, such as papillary and follicular thyroid cancer. Doctors often reserve the use of chemotherapy for thyroid cancer that is not responding to other forms of treatment, and for cancer that has spread, or metastasized, from the thyroid to other parts of the body.

In cases of anaplastic thyroid cancer, chemotherapy is frequently combined with external beam radiation. Doxorubicin, the chemotherapy drug most often used against thyroid cancer, prompts partial remission of anaplastic thyroid cancer in 30 percent of patients. When used in combination with another chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, chemotherapy for cancer of the thyroid may be even more successful.

In cases of medullary thyroid cancer, doctors use chemotherapy when the disease has spread, or “metastasized,” beyond the thyroid and neck to more distant organs, such as the lungs and the bones.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Cancer Patients

Although chemotherapy is a useful tool in battling cancer, it can also be very hard on patients. Due to its systemic action, chemotherapy also tackles any rapidly dividing cell in the body, which could include your hair follicles, the cells in the lining of your stomach or mouth and your bone marrow cells. Possible side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Infections
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting.

These side effects are usually short term, and most stop when you complete your thyroid cancer chemotherapy treatments. Your doctor may be able to provide you with medication to alleviate some symptoms, such as nausea.

You can also find support to help you through your chemotherapy for cancer treatment. For example, the National Cancer Institute publishes Chemotherapy and You, a guide for patients with facts about chemotherapy and suggestions for self-care during treatment.

Different forms of chemotherapy have varying side effects. Doxorubicin, for example, is known to decrease heart function. If you take doxorubicin, your regular check-ups will likely include an echocardiogram or other heart tests to make sure your cardiac system is tolerating the chemotherapy medication.


American Cancer Society Staff. (2009). Detailed guide: Thyroid cancer- chemotherapy. Retrieved March 28, 2010, from the American Cancer Society Web site:

Macmillan Cancer Support Staff. (2007). Chemotherapy. Retrieved March 28, 2010, from the Macmillan Cancer Support Web site: Chemotherapy/Chemotherapy.aspx.

National Cancer Institute Staff. (2009). Anaplastic thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 28, 2010, from the National Cancer Institute Web Site:

National Cancer Institute Staff. (2007). Chemotherapy and you. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from the National Cancer Institute Web Site: