Our Treatment Approach
When you have thyroid cancer, it is important to be treated by experts with a high level of expertise. Our program is one of the most active, which means MD Anderson’s physicians are some of the most skilled and experienced in the nation.
Surgery is often part of the treatment for thyroid cancer. Like all surgeries, thyroid cancer surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure. For some patients, robotic surgery and minimally invasive approaches may help maintain appearance.
Because we are one of the nation’s foremost cancer centers, we offer a number of clinical trials of innovative new therapies.
If you are diagnosed with thyroid cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- Type of thyroid cancer
- Size of the nodule
- Your age and health
- Stage of cancer
Your treatment for thyroid cancer will be customized to your particular needs. In most cases of differentiated (papillary and follicular) thyroid cancer, two or more of the following methods may be used. Most patients with medullary thyroid cancer are treated with surgery only. Patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer may be treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, or they may be candidates for a clinical trial.
Most people with thyroid cancer are treated with surgery. Many also are treated with additional methods.
The surgery most likely will be one of the following:
- Total thyroidectomy: The entire thyroid is removed
- Lobectomy: Only the side of the thyroid where the tumor is located is removed. This type of surgery may be used for papillary cancers smaller than 1 centimeter (about ½ inch) that have not spread.
- Lymph nodes in the area of the tumor or in the neck and/or chest also may be removed.
If your entire thyroid gland is removed, you will take thyroid hormone replacement pills daily for the rest of your life.
Surgical teams at MD Anderson offer a variety of minimally invasive techniques for thyroid surgery, including minimally invasive video-assisted thyroid (MIVAT) surgery and robotic thyroid surgery through transaxillary and facelift incisions.
New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
The type of radiation used depends on the type and stage of your cancer. Thyroid cancer may be treated with:
Radioactive iodine: You drink a liquid or swallow a pill that contains radioactive iodine, which collects in thyroid tissue and destroys cancer cells. This method also is used to eliminate any thyroid cells in other parts of the body remaining after thyroidectomy or thyroid cancer.
If radioactive iodine is used after surgery, you may be asked to discontinue your thyroid hormone medicine to make the iodine more effective. This can sometimes be uncomfortable. A newer method gives thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) by injection and does not require stopping thyroid medicine. Women should not become pregnant for six months to a year after radioactive iodine treatment.
External beam radiation: This type of therapy is most effective for thyroid cancers that do not absorb iodine, including anaplastic thyroid cancer. It may be used to fight thyroid cancer cells remaining after surgery or if cancer spreads to the bones.
Thyroid Hormone Therapy
This treatment uses thyroid hormone pills to stop the growth of cancer cells. In papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, hormone treatment may be used to lower the level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which may help stop the cancer from coming back. In other thyroid cancers, it may be used to keep thyroid hormone levels normal.
Chemotherapy often is used in combination with external beam radiation therapy to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer. It is usually not effective in other types of thyroid cancer.
Our Clinical Trials
Because we are one of the world’s premier cancer centers, MD Anderson participates in many clinical trials (research studies) for thyroid cancer. Sometimes they are your best option for treatment. Research studies may also help researchers learn how to treat cancer and improve the future of cancer treatment.