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What's the treatment for thyroid cancer?

Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage. Cancer staging considers the size of the tumor, whether it has grown into surrounding lymph nodes, and whether it has spread to distant parts of the body (metastasized). The patient's age and general health status are also taken into account. Four types of treatment are used: surgical removal,

radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy.

Surgery is the most common form of treatment for thyroid cancer that has not spread to distant parts of the body. The surgeon usually removes part or all of the thyroid and any other affected tissue, such as lymph nodes. If the cancer has not spread to distant parts of the body, surgical removal is the usual treatment. The surgeon may remove the side or lobe of the thyroid where the cancer is found (lobectomy) or all of it (total thyroidectomy). If the adjoining lymph nodes are affected, they may also be removed during surgery.

Radioiodine therapy is 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. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external beam radiation) or the patient may be asked to swallow a drink containing radioactive iodine. Because the thyroid cells take up iodine, the radioactive iodine collects in any thyroid tissue remaining in the body and kills the cancer cells.

Hormones usually are given to patients who have had surgery to remove the thyroid and/or treatment with radioactive iodine. The hormones replace those that are normally produced by the thyroid. This treatment also slows down the growth of any remaining thyroid cancer cells. Hormone therapy uses hormones to stop the cancer cells from growing. When the thyroid gland is removed and levels of thyroid hormones fall, the pituitary gland starts producing a hormone called "thyroid stimulating hormone" (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid cells to grow. This stimulation would also induce growth of the cancerous thyroid cells. To prevent cancerous growth, the natural hormones that are produced by the thyroid are taken in the form of pills. Thus, their levels remain normal and inhibit the pituitary from making TSH.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and surgery is not possible, the treatment is aimed at killing or slowing the growth of cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy may be used, either in a pill or an injection through a vein in the arm.

More information on thyroid cancer

What is thyroid cancer? - Thyroid cancer is a disease in which the thyroid cells become abnormal, grow uncontrollably, and form tumors.
What types of thyroid cancer are there? - There are four major types of thyroid cancer: papillary thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, and anaplastic thyroid cancer.
What causes thyroid cancer? - Doctors do not know what causes most cases of thyroid cancer. Exposure to radiation during childhood is a known risk factor for thyroid cancer.
What're the symptoms of thyroid cancer? - The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump, or nodule, that can be felt in the neck. Other symptoms are rare.
What're the risk factors for thyroid cancer? - Risk factors for thyroid cancer include radiation, family history, genetic conditions, sex, reproductive history.
How is thyroid cancer diagnosed? - A test known as the calcitonin test may be ordered if medullary thyroid cancer is suspected. Imaging tests identify any abnormal areas in the thyroid.
What's the treatment for thyroid cancer? - Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage. Surgery is the most common form of treatment for thyroid cancer.
How to prevent thyroid cancer? - Because many people develop thyroid cancer without having any known risk factors for the illness, this form of cancer is hard to prevent.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005