Thyroid Cancer

We create individual treatment plans based on the size and specific type of cancer, as well as your specific needs

Thyroid cancer is uncommon, slow-growing, highly treatable, and occurs when cancer cells grow in the thyroid gland located in your neck. Your thyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, weight and body temperature.

Cancer specialists at IU Health have extensive experience treating thyroid cancer with advanced techniques that can provide you with a good long-term outlook.

The five-year survival rate for all stages of thyroid cancer combined is 98 percent in the United States. More than half of all thyroid cancer patients are under age 55, and about 75 percent are women.

Radiation exposure can put you at risk as well as inherited genetic syndromes for a small number of cases.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

A number of different types of thyroid cancer exist including:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer (80 percent of all cases of thyroid cancer)
  • Follicular
  • Anaplastic
  • Medullary
  • Other types

Symptoms

Thyroid cancer symptoms often start with painless swelling or bumps, caused by tumors, around your throat that you can feel through your skin. The swelling may also cause hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and persistent cough. Physicians sometimes discover thyroid cancer during routine examinations or while testing for or treating other conditions, such as carotid artery disease.

Diagnosis

At IU Health, your oncologists will assess your thyroid tumor on-site using a variety of methods. Diagnostic procedures may include:

  • Imaging. Using ultrasound or radioactive iodine, your physicians can observe any nodules on your thyroid gland. Other technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan, help determine whether a cancer has spread.
  • Blood tests. Levels of several substances, including thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), give your physicians a sense of your thyroid’s functioning. High calcitonin, a hormone, may indicate medullary thyroid cancer.
  • Biopsy. Your physicians may take a sample of your thyroid cells, typically using a hollow needle in a technique called fine needle aspiration (FNA). Sometimes they conduct genetic testing on the tissue sample to help determine whether a nodule is cancerous or benign (noncancerous).

How We Can Help

Your IU Health oncologists will create an individual treatment plan based on the size and type of cancer and your specific needs and preferences. A team of expert physicians collaborate to remove the malignant cells, minimize the chance of a recurrence and monitor thyroid function, including:

Your team will practice patient- and family-centered care. Your physicians will consider you a vital member of the healthcare team throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

At IU Health, your physicians strive to continue to improve medicine through research and physician education. Through their affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine, they consistently offer the latest innovations in care. Your physicians also train the next generation of physicians and carry out research to improve diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer. Researchers at IU Health engage in a variety of clinical trials with patients to discover new approaches to combat cancer.

Understanding Thyroid Cancer

The five-year survival rate for all stages of thyroid cancer combined is 98 percent in the United States. More than half of all thyroid cancer patients are under age 55, and about 75 percent are women.

Radiation exposure can put you at risk as well as inherited genetic syndromes for a small number of cases.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

A number of different types of thyroid cancer exist including:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer (80 percent of all cases of thyroid cancer)
  • Follicular
  • Anaplastic
  • Medullary
  • Other types

Symptoms

Thyroid cancer symptoms often start with painless swelling or bumps, caused by tumors, around your throat that you can feel through your skin. The swelling may also cause hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and persistent cough. Physicians sometimes discover thyroid cancer during routine examinations or while testing for or treating other conditions, such as carotid artery disease.

Diagnosis

At IU Health, your oncologists will assess your thyroid tumor on-site using a variety of methods. Diagnostic procedures may include:

  • Imaging. Using ultrasound or radioactive iodine, your physicians can observe any nodules on your thyroid gland. Other technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan, help determine whether a cancer has spread.
  • Blood tests. Levels of several substances, including thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), give your physicians a sense of your thyroid’s functioning. High calcitonin, a hormone, may indicate medullary thyroid cancer.
  • Biopsy. Your physicians may take a sample of your thyroid cells, typically using a hollow needle in a technique called fine needle aspiration (FNA). Sometimes they conduct genetic testing on the tissue sample to help determine whether a nodule is cancerous or benign (noncancerous).

How We Can Help

Your IU Health oncologists will create an individual treatment plan based on the size and type of cancer and your specific needs and preferences. A team of expert physicians collaborate to remove the malignant cells, minimize the chance of a recurrence and monitor thyroid function, including:

Your team will practice patient- and family-centered care. Your physicians will consider you a vital member of the healthcare team throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

At IU Health, your physicians strive to continue to improve medicine through research and physician education. Through their affiliation with the Indiana University School of Medicine, they consistently offer the latest innovations in care. Your physicians also train the next generation of physicians and carry out research to improve diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer. Researchers at IU Health engage in a variety of clinical trials with patients to discover new approaches to combat cancer.

Your physicians will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your thyroid cancer, ensuring you get the treatment and support you need. Services may include:

Surgery

Surgery serves as the primary and most effective treatment for thyroid cancer. Even when thyroid cancer progresses to a more advanced stage by spreading to lymph nodes, it often remains clearly defined.

This definition allows precise removal of most or all cancer cells, reducing the need for additional treatment. Depending on the type and stage of thyroid cancer you have, you may have all or part of your thyroid removed as well as surrounding lymph nodes.

The procedure often takes two to four hours, and you receive general anesthesia. The most common operation involves a cut a few inches long across the front of your neck. Recovery from the operation typically takes a week or more.

Radioactive Iodine

After surgery, we can treat any remaining thyroid cancer by injecting a radioactive form of iodine into your body. The radioactive iodine kills all remaining cancer cells while having very few side effects on the rest of your body.

You receive a single dose of this medicine, typically as a pill. In some cases, a technique called dosimetry can help when choosing the highest dosage of radioactive iodine you can take without unacceptable side effects. After you take radioactive iodine, you receive guidelines to avoid exposing other people to radiation.

External Beam Radiation

This treatment involves aiming a high-energy beam at the cancer cells from outside the body. The radiation kills the cancer cells, though it may affect some surrounding cells.

External beam radiation therapy usually consists of five sessions a week for five or six weeks. It can help destroy all types of thyroid cancer, including medullary and anaplastic tumors that do not respond to radioactive iodine.

You can use external beam radiation alone or in combination with other therapies. Physicians typically recommend it if you cannot undergo surgery or for younger patients for whom thyroid removal may not be a good choice due to its effect on hormone production.

Thyroid Hormone (Levothyroxine) Therapy

Following removal of the entire thyroid, you will need lifelong hormone replacement therapy to replace hormones that your thyroid would have produced. This therapy helps your body continue to function normally and reduces the risk that your thyroid cancer will come back.

Chemotherapy

The systemic anti-cancer drugs used for many other types of cancer rarely help thyroid cancer, but they have a role in treating some cases of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Chemotherapy for thyroid cancer can involve pills or injections.

Treatment

Your physicians will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your thyroid cancer, ensuring you get the treatment and support you need. Services may include:

Surgery

Surgery serves as the primary and most effective treatment for thyroid cancer. Even when thyroid cancer progresses to a more advanced stage by spreading to lymph nodes, it often remains clearly defined.

This definition allows precise removal of most or all cancer cells, reducing the need for additional treatment. Depending on the type and stage of thyroid cancer you have, you may have all or part of your thyroid removed as well as surrounding lymph nodes.

The procedure often takes two to four hours, and you receive general anesthesia. The most common operation involves a cut a few inches long across the front of your neck. Recovery from the operation typically takes a week or more.

Radioactive Iodine

After surgery, we can treat any remaining thyroid cancer by injecting a radioactive form of iodine into your body. The radioactive iodine kills all remaining cancer cells while having very few side effects on the rest of your body.

You receive a single dose of this medicine, typically as a pill. In some cases, a technique called dosimetry can help when choosing the highest dosage of radioactive iodine you can take without unacceptable side effects. After you take radioactive iodine, you receive guidelines to avoid exposing other people to radiation.

External Beam Radiation

This treatment involves aiming a high-energy beam at the cancer cells from outside the body. The radiation kills the cancer cells, though it may affect some surrounding cells.

External beam radiation therapy usually consists of five sessions a week for five or six weeks. It can help destroy all types of thyroid cancer, including medullary and anaplastic tumors that do not respond to radioactive iodine.

You can use external beam radiation alone or in combination with other therapies. Physicians typically recommend it if you cannot undergo surgery or for younger patients for whom thyroid removal may not be a good choice due to its effect on hormone production.

Thyroid Hormone (Levothyroxine) Therapy

Following removal of the entire thyroid, you will need lifelong hormone replacement therapy to replace hormones that your thyroid would have produced. This therapy helps your body continue to function normally and reduces the risk that your thyroid cancer will come back.

Chemotherapy

The systemic anti-cancer drugs used for many other types of cancer rarely help thyroid cancer, but they have a role in treating some cases of anaplastic thyroid cancer. Chemotherapy for thyroid cancer can involve pills or injections.

Patient Stories for Thyroid Cancer

American Cancer Society

The ACS includes comprehensive information on many topics surrounding thyroid cancer, such as treatment and survival statistics.

Resources

American Cancer Society

The ACS includes comprehensive information on many topics surrounding thyroid cancer, such as treatment and survival statistics.