Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

People with thyroid cancer have many treatment options. The choice of treatment depends on:
  • the type of thyroid cancer (papillary, follicular, medullary, or anaplastic)
  • the size of the nodule
  • your age
  • whether the cancer has spread
Thyroid cancer may be treated with
  • Surgery
  • Thyroid hormone treatment
  • Radioactive iodine therapy
  • External radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy


Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. The surgeon may remove all or part of the thyroid. The type of surgery depends on the type and stage of thyroid cancer, the size of the nodule, and the patient’s age. Total thyroidectomy—Surgery to remove the entire thyroid is called a total thyroidectomy. Lobectomy: The lobe with the cancerous nodule is removed. The surgeon also may remove part of the remaining thyroid tissue or nearby lymph nodes.

Thyroid Hormone Treatment

Hormone treatment after surgery is usually part of the treatment plan for papillary and follicular cancer. When a patient takes thyroid hormone pills, the growth of any remaining thyroid cancer cells slows down which lowers the chance of recurrence. After surgery or I-131 therapy (which removes or destroys thyroid tissue), people with thyroid cancer may need to take thyroid hormone pills to replace the natural thyroid hormone.

Radioactive iodine therapy

Radioactive iodine therapy (also called radioiodine therapy) uses radioactive iodine (I-131) to destroy thyroid cancer cells anywhere in the body. The therapy usually is given by mouth (liquid or capsules) in a small dose that causes no problems for people who are allergic to iodine. The intestine absorbs the I-131, which flows through the bloodstream and collects in thyroid cells. Thyroid cancer cells remaining in the neck and those that have spread to other parts of the body are killed when they absorb I-131.

External radiation therapy

External radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A large machine directs radiation at the neck or at parts of the body where the cancer has spread. External radiation therapy is local therapy. It affects cancer cells only in the treated area.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are usually given by injection into a vein. They enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy is a treatment for anaplastic thyroid cancer. It’s sometimes used to relieve symptoms of medullary thyroid cancer or other thyroid cancers.

Follow-up Care

Follow-up care after treatment for thyroid cancer is an important part of the overall treatment plan. Regular checkups ensure that any changes in health are noted. Problems can be found and treated as soon as possible. Checkups may include a careful physical exam, x-rays and other imaging tests (such as a nuclear medicine scan), and laboratory tests (such as a blood test for calcitonin).
National Cancer Institute
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention