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Treating Thyroid Cancer

If you've been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It's important to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Common treatment approaches

Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially if they have not spread to distant parts of the body. If the cancer can’t be cured, the goal of treatment may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible and to keep it from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible. Sometimes treatment is aimed at palliating (relieving) symptoms such as pain or problems with breathing and swallowing.

In choosing a treatment plan, factors to consider include the type and stage of the cancer and your general health. Often, more than one type of treatment is needed.

Who treats thyroid cancer?

Depending on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment. Doctors on your cancer treatment team may include:

  • surgeon: a doctor who uses surgery to treat cancers or other problems
  • An endocrinologist: a doctor who treats diseases in glands that secrete hormones
  • radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
  • medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.

Making treatment decisions

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your family and your treatment team to make the choice that best fits your needs. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. 

Some treatments for thyroid cancer might affect your ability to have children later in life. If this might be a concern for you, talk to your doctor about it before you decide on treatment. 

If time permits, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. 

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. 

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods to relieve symptoms or treat your cancer that your doctors haven’t mentioned. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods are treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of standard medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be harmful.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. 

Help getting through cancer treatment

People with cancer need support and information, no matter what stage of illness they may be in. Knowing all of your options and finding the resources you need will help you make informed decisions about your care.

Whether you are thinking about treatment, getting treatment, or not being treated at all, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms. Communicating with your cancer care team is important so you understand your diagnosis, what treatment is recommended, and ways to maintain or improve your quality of life. 

Different types of programs and support services may be helpful, and they can be an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services - including rides to treatment,  lodging, and more - to help you get through treatment. Call our Cancer Knowledge Hub at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our caring, trained cancer helpline specialists. Or, if you prefer, you can use our chat feature on cancer.org to connect with one of our specialists.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk to your doctors as you make that decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask your cancer care team any questions you may have about your treatment options.