Determining the course of treatment to take following a thyroid cancer diagnosis is different for each patient. It is individual decision best made with input from a patient’s doctors and family members. Though there are standard treatment recommendations, it is a good idea to conduct research and share your concerns with your doctor before coming to a final decision. Chances are you will work with a team of doctors, sometimes including a surgeon, radiation oncologist, endocrinologist, and medical oncologist, all of who can share their thoughts and suggestions for treatment.
The first consideration concerning your treatment is at which stage your cancer is discovered. The most common system used to stage thyroid cancer is called the TNM system. This system was developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer and uses three pieces of information including:
• Size of the (T)umor
• Extent to which the cancer has spread to the lymph (N)odes
• Whether or not the cancer has (M)etastasized to other organs in the body
Stages may then be further categorized, much of which is dependent on the type of thyroid cancer a patient has, as well as his age.
Once your cancer is diagnosed and staged, you will discuss your treatment options with your medical team. Your doctors might suggest a single treatment or a combination of treatments depending on your current health and your cancer. Treatment options for thyroid cancer include:
• External beam radiation
• Thyroid hormone therapy
• Radioactive iodine treatment
• Targeted therapy
In most cases, thyroid cancer is curable. As a matter of fact, when thyroid cancer is found early enough, the survival rate is nearly 80%. In cases when the cancer has progressed too far the goal of treatment is to prevent thyroid cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Keeping cancer contained in one location in the body may make it possible for a person to live with her condition.
Unfortunately, if the cancer has spread, treatment will be strictly palliative. One or more of the treatment options listed above will be used to help the patient breathe comfortably and live as pain-free as possible.
Surgery for Thyroid Cancer
Surgery is the most common cancer treatment used for combating thyroid cancer. This is an option for nearly all thyroid cancer cases, except for some anaplastic thyroid cancers. The goal of surgery is to remove either the tumor or all or part of the thyroid gland. There are three types of thyroid cancer surgery, including:
• Lobectomy: this removes the lobe of the thyroid containing the cancerous tumor. This surgery may also be used to diagnose thyroid cancer if a biopsy was inconclusive.
• Thyroidectomy: this removes either the entire thyroid gland or a portion of it. It is the most common type of surgery used to treat thyroid cancer. When the entire gland is removed it is called a total thyroidectomy. When only a portion is removed it is called a near-total thyroidectomy.
• Lymph node removal: this is done if cancer has spread from the thyroid into the lymph nodes in the neck. It is done at the same time as the thyroidectomy.