There are many treatment options for thyroid cancer. The specialists who treat you at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center are endocrine tumor experts who use a team-based approach to choose the right treatment for every patient. They will work closely with you, your family and each other to get you back to health.
At Fred Hutch, we provide all standard therapies for thyroid cancer and offer you access to the latest options through clinical trials.
Thyroid cancer treatment at Fred Hutch is customized for each patient’s needs.
Your Fred Hutch medical oncologist is part of an expert group of other surgeons, endocrinologists, pathologists and researchers who are looking for better ways to treat this disease.
Every week, this team gets together in a meeting called a tumor board. Together, dozens of team members talk about their patients’ treatment plans. This approach means each patient benefits from the experience of the whole group.
With support from the larger team, your physician will:
Your medical oncologist will walk you and your caregiver through the treatment plan that the tumor board has recommended for you. You will have a chance to share your personal preferences and options, and you will decide together what happens next.
Because each person’s disease and health are unique, physicians need to customize treatment to each person.
The treatment plan we make for you depends on many things, including:
For most people with most types of thyroid cancer, the first treatment is surgery. The exact details of your surgery will depend on several things, like where in your thyroid the cancer is located and if it has spread to your lymph nodes.
At Fred Hutch, our standard always involves caring for you as a whole person. We help you get relief from side effects and provide many other forms of support, like integrative medicine, nutrition counseling and physical therapy.
Your surgery will be done by surgeons who are experts in treating thyroid cancer, using the most up-to-date information to guide their surgical decisions.
First, you’ll meet with your thyroid surgeon, who will carefully look at your imaging and biopsy results. They’ll find out your health needs and ask about your personal preferences. Then, they’ll explain your options, what type of surgery they recommend and what to expect. Of course, they’ll also answer all your questions.
If cancer is only in your thyroid, you may either have half of your thyroid removed (hemithyroidectomy) or your entire thyroid removed (total thyroidectomy). This depends on the size of the tumor, how the cancer looks on ultrasound and other things.
If cancer is also in your lymph nodes, the surgeon will remove your entire thyroid along with the group of lymph nodes involved.
Today, Radioactive Iodine Therapy (RAI) is most often used to treat papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer.
Your thyroid gland naturally takes up and holds onto the mineral iodine, which is found in some foods. In RAI therapy, you swallow a capsule that has a special radioactive type of iodine called I-131. As the capsule melts, the radioactive iodine moves through your bloodstream and collects in your thyroid cells, which destroys the thyroid cells along with the cancer cells.
RAI therapy is used on its own and can also be used together with surgery, depending on your situation.
Targeted therapies block the growth or spread of cancer cells through just one pathway or receptor, instead of attacking all fast-growing cells, like conventional chemotherapy drugs do.
The medicines we use are sorafenib and lenvatinib, which are FDA-approved to treat thyroid cancer that is no longer responding to RAI therapy.
If you have surgery to remove your entire thyroid, you will need thyroid hormone therapy. If only half of your thyroid was removed, you may or may not need hormone therapy. Your care team will explain what they recommend for you and why.
This means that you will take the pill levothyroxine every day as a hormone replacement. Your physician also may recommend taking thyroid hormone as a suppressive therapy (to stop the thyroid cancer from coming back).
Chemotherapy is only used for a very small percentage of people with thyroid cancer — people who have radioiodine refractory disease. For almost everyone who has thyroid cancer, chemotherapy is not needed.
While you are in active treatment, your thyroid cancer care team will see you regularly for exams and tests to check:
We will update your treatment plan based on the best scientific evidence as well as how your disease responds and what you prefer.
Along with treating your thyroid cancer, Fred Hutch provides a range of services to support you and your caregiver before, during and after treatment. This is part of how we take care of you — not just your disease.
From dietitians to chaplains, we have experts who specialize in caring for people with cancer. We understand this may be one of the most intense and challenging experiences you and your family ever go through. We are here to provide the care you need.
Learn more about Supportive Care
If your loved one is getting treatment for thyroid cancer, there are many ways you can help. Caregiving during active treatment often means doing tasks like these:
When your disease is in remission and your active treatment ends, it is still important to get follow-up care on a regular basis. At follow-up visits, you will see the same Fred Hutch team who treated your thyroid cancer. They will check your overall health and look for signs that your cancer has come back (signs of recurrence).
Your team will also help with any long-term side effects (which go on after treatment ends) or late effects (which may start after treatment is over).