Thyroid Cancer (cont.)

What is the treatment for thyroid cancer?

Treatment options for people with thyroid cancer are …

  • Surgery
  • Thyroid hormone treatment
  • Radioactive iodine therapy
  • External radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

You'll probably receive more than one type of treatment. For example, the usual treatment for papillary thyroid cancer is surgery, thyroid hormone treatment, and radioactive iodine therapy. External radiation therapy and chemotherapy are not often used for people with papillary thyroid cancer.

The treatment that's right for you depends mainly on the type of thyroid cancer (papillary, follicular, medullary, or anaplastic). It also depends on the size of the nodule, your age, and whether the cancer has spread. You and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist who has experience treating thyroid cancer, or you may ask for a referral. You may have a team of specialists:

  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in treating people who have hormone disorders.
  • Thyroidologist: A thyroidologist is an endocrinologist who specializes in treating diseases of the thyroid.
  • Surgeon: This type of doctor can perform surgery.
  • Nuclear medicine doctor: A nuclear medicine doctor specializes in using radioactive substances to diagnose and treat cancer and other diseases.
  • Medical oncologist: A medical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with drugs.
  • Radiation oncologist: A radiation oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy.

An oncology nurse and a registered dietitian may also be part of your team.

Your health care team can describe your treatment choices, the expected results of each treatment, and the possible side effects. Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. These side effects depend on many factors, including the type of treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may even change from one treatment session to the next. Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects and how treatment may change your normal activities.

At any stage of the disease, supportive care is available to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of treatment, and to ease emotional concerns. You can get information about coping on NCI's website at

Also, you can get information about supportive care from NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237). Or, chat using LiveHelp, NCI's instant messaging service, at

You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies testing new treatments. They are an important option for people with all stages of thyroid cancer. See the section on Taking Part in Cancer Research.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before treatment begins:

  • What type of thyroid cancer do I have? May I have a copy of the report from the pathologist?
  • What is the stage of my disease? Has the cancer spread? If so, where?
  • What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Will I have more than one kind of treatment?
  • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? What can we do to control the side effects?
  • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover the cost?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?
  • What is my chance of a full recovery?
  • Would a research study (clinical trial) be right for me?

Patient Comments

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Thyroid Cancer - Symptoms Question: The symptoms of thyroid cancer can vary greatly from patient to patient. What were your symptoms at the onset of your disease?
Thyroid Cancer - Treatments Question: What was the treatment for your thyroid cancer?
Thyroid Cancer - Share Your Surgery Experience Question: Please share your experience with surgery for thyroid cancer.