Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Developing a plan for thyroid cancer treatment depends on the kind of thyroid cancer, the size of the tumor, where it’s located and whether or not the cancer has spread. For most patients with thyroid cancer, treatment will involve a combination of therapies.

Doctors generally use four standard types of thyroid cancer treatment:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation (including radioactive iodine treatment)
  • Surgery
  • Thyroid hormone therapy.

Most often, the decisions you make regarding your thyroid cancer treatment will be made in cooperation with your health care team, which can include a surgeon, an endocrinologist who specializes in gland problems, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist.

Chemotherapy for Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It’s systemic, which means that once it is ingested or injected, it reaches the bloodstream and affects the entire body. Chemotherapy is used in thyroid cancer treatment to address metastasis, or the spread of cancer to other areas.


Two forms of radiation therapy are used most often as thyroid cancer treatment:

  • External beam radiation therapy: Employs high energy external x-rays to kill cancer cells. This treatment is usually used after surgery to target specific areas.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment (RAI): Uses radioactive iodine taken internally to kill cancerous cells. The thyroid is the only organ that absorbs iodine, so when the radioactive iodine treatment is administered, the thyroid cells take up the iodine and die. This treatment usually takes place 4-6 weeks after surgery.

Surgery for Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Surgery is the principle method for treating and curing thyroid cancer. Once the location of the cancer is determined, doctors must decide how much of the thyroid to remove. Surgery possibilities include:

  • Lobectomy: Only the cancerous lobe of the thyroid is removed; these are sometimes performed on patients with papillary and follicular cancer.
  • Lymphadenectomy: One or more of the lymph nodes in the neck may be removed if the cancer seems to have spread, or if it could spread.
  • Thyroidectomy (total or near-total): All, or nearly all, of the thyroid is removed. This is the most common thyroid cancer treatment surgery performed.

Thyroid Hormone Therapy After Cancer Treatment

When your thyroid is removed, you no longer produce the thyroid hormones that are critical for health. Thyroid hormone therapy gives your body the hormones it needs to function and keeps the body from making increased thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which could increase the chances of thyroid cancer growing or recurring.

Lastly, through ongoing clinical trials, researchers are seeking to refine or develop new methods of treating thyroid cancer. You and your doctor may determine that participating in a clinical trial would be an effective part of your treatment program.


National Cancer Institute Staff. (2009). Treatment option overview. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from the National Cancer Institute Web site:

Norman, J. (2010). Overview of typical thyroid cancer treatment. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the Web site: Staff. (2009). Thyroid cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the Web site: Types/Thyroid Cancer?sectionTitle=Treatment.

CancerLinks USA Staff. (1998). Thyroid cancer treatment information for patients. Retrieved March 23, 2010, from the CancerLinks USA Web site: