Treatment & Procedures

Some of the tests used to diagnose thyroid cancer can provide crucial information about how the tumor should be treated. This information has to do with staging the tumor and determining whether and where the tumor has spread. Your doctor will want to know whether the tumor has spread within the tissue where it began, through lymph nodes, or through the blood away from the original tumor site. Although staging options differ slightly for the four types of thyroid cancer, the staging system begins with stage 1 (confined to the thyroid) and goes up to stage 4, where the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other organs. All anaplastic thyroid cancers are considered stage 4, which has a poor prognosis.


Once thyroid cancer has been diagnosed and staged, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatments:



Surgery for Thyroid Cancer
Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid is the main treatment for most people with thyroid cancer:


  • In a total thyroidectomy, your surgeon removes your entire thyroid gland.
  • In a near-total thyroidectomy, your surgeon removes all except a small part of your thyroid.
  • Lobectomy is the surgical removal of the lobe (side of the thyroid) that is cancerous.
  • Neck dissection (lymphadenectomy) is needed to remove the lymph nodes in the neck when the cancer has spread there.


Learn more about surgery, including the roles that different surgical approaches have in preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.


Radioactive Iodine (Radioiodine) Therapy
Radioactive iodine (I-131) therapy kills thyroid cancer cells and normal thyroid cells that remain in the body after surgery. You are given either a liquid or capsule to swallow. The radioactive iodine enters your bloodstream and finds and destroys thyroid cancer cells throughout the body.
Some people receive this therapy as an outpatient, whereas others may be hospitalized.


Thyroid Hormone Treatment
In the treatment of thyroid cancer, drugs may be given to prevent the body from producing thyroid-stimulating hormone, a hormone that can increase the chance that thyroid cancer will grow or recur. In addition, because thyroid cancer treatment kills thyroid cells, the thyroid is not able to make enough thyroid hormone. Therefore, after surgery, you will likely need to take pills to replace the natural thyroid hormone that is no longer being produced but is essential for your body to function properly.


Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells in a targeted area. A carefully focused beam from a machine outside the body delivers the radiation. Radiation therapy is typically only used on thyroid cancers that cannot be treated with surgery or radioactive iodine therapy. It is usually given five days a week for about six weeks as outpatient therapy.

Learn more about the variety of innovative radiation therapies offered at Houston Methodist.


While seldom helpful for most types of thyroid cancer, chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer, in combination with external-beam radiation, or for advanced thyroid cancer that is not responding to other treatments.

Chemotherapy may be given in pill form or in liquid form into your vein. The drug enters the bloodstream and circulates throughout the body to destroy the cancer cells. Newer targeted oral chemotherapy agents are being studied for use in treating thyroid cancer and requires a conversation with your doctor to determine if it is appropriate for your condition.

Learn more about chemotherapy treatment, including how it works within your body and what to expect while undergoing treatment.


Clinical Trials
For some patients, participating in a clinical trial may be the best treatment option. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a potential new treatment. Learn more about our current cancer-related clinical trials.