Your personal medical team is made up of experts from several specialties. They work together, communicating and collaborating with each other and with you, to ensure you receive seamless, coordinated care.
If your treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery, our talented surgeons use the most advanced techniques that are proven to have good results. In some cases, video-assisted or robotic surgery may be used, while minimizing or eliminating a neck scar.
We are at the forefront of research on how to better treat and prevent thyroid cancer. In fact, we led an international study that showed patients with certain types of papillary or follicular thyroid cancer do best when they are treated with surgery, radioactive iodine and thyroid hormone suppression therapy.
As leaders in thyroid cancer research, we are able to offer a number of clinical trials of innovative therapies.
When thyroid cancer is found early, you have a higher chance for successful treatment. Unfortunately, thyroid cancer often has few or no signs. When it does have symptoms, they vary from person to person. If you do have symptoms, they may include:
These symptoms do not always mean you have thyroid cancer. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may signal other health problems.
Accurate diagnosis can be very important to your treatment. If you have symptoms that may signal thyroid cancer, your doctor will examine your neck and throat, feeling for lumps or swelling. Your doctor will also complete a medical history. This involves asking questions about your symptoms, other health problems and health problems in other members of your family. If anyone in your family has had thyroid cancer or parathyroid or adrenal tumors, be sure to tell your doctor.
One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.
Fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNA): Biopsy (removal of a small number of cells and looking at them under a microscope) is the only way to tell for sure if you have thyroid cancer. In FNA, a thin needle is inserted into the nodule, and cells are taken out to biopsy. Most thyroid nodules are proved by FNA to be benign (not cancer). If the FNA is inconclusive (not showing clearly if the nodule is cancerous), more testing may be needed.
Imaging tests, which may include:
Radioactive thyroid scan: If a nodule is papillary or follicular cancer, a radioactive thyroid scan may be used after thyroid surgery to determine if cancer remains or has spread to other parts of the body. Medullary thyroid cancer cells don't absorb iodine, so this test is not useful in this type of thyroid cancer.
Genetic testing: If you have medullary thyroid cancer, you will be given a blood test to determine if you carry a gene that sometimes causes this cancer. If the test is positive, your children and parents should be tested to see if they have the gene or thyroid cancer. More than 90% of people who have the gene will eventually develop thyroid cancer.
If your child has the gene, the doctor probably will suggest removal of the thyroid. Although children rarely develop cancer before 5 years old, one type of MTC known as MEN-2B can develop in the early months of life. If the thyroid is removed, then that person will take daily thyroid medication for the rest of his or her life.
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:
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 these 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.
Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re healthy and don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for curing it are best. Unfortunately, standardized screening tests have not been shown to improve thyroid cancer outcomes.
Although thyroid cancer sometimes has no symptoms, many tumors are found in the early stages when patients or their doctors find lumps or nodules in their throats. Some doctors suggest you examine your neck carefully twice a year. Be sure your doctor includes a cancer-related exam in your annual exam.
If other people in your family have or had familial medullary thyroid cancer, you and your children should have blood tests as early as possible to find out if you have the gene that causes this cancer. If you or your children have the gene, your doctor may suggest surgically removing the thyroid gland to lower the risk of cancer. More than 90% of people with the gene develop thyroid cancer.
Anything that increases your chance of getting thyroid cancer is a risk factor. Risk factors include:
Not everyone with risk factors gets thyroid cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.