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Thyroid Cancer Treatment

At Fox Chase Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary medical team works closely to accurately diagnose your thyroid cancer and help you understand your options so that you can make an informed decision about your treatment.

As a regional and national leader in cancer care, Fox Chase has a wealth of experience treating all types of thyroid cancer.

Our skilled, multispecialty head and neck oncology team meets regularly to review patient cases and map out a personalized treatment plan. We strive to treat your cancer in the least invasive way possible using innovative surgical techniques and combination therapies that give you the best chance of a successful outcome.

Our doctors are also actively involved in developing new therapies for treating thyroid cancer. Through clinical trials, we are able to offer our patients access to promising treatments and experimental therapies that may not be available elsewhere. Ask your Fox Chase doctor if a clinical trial is right for you.

Your Treatment Options

Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the stage, type, and grade of your tumor; whether it has invaded into other tissue; and your age, health history, and personal goals. Your personalized treatment plan will be created after consultations with multiple physicians within our multidisciplinary team and may include a combination of one or more of the following treatment options.

Surgery

Surgery is the most effective initial treatment for thyroid cancer. Patients who are initially told their tumor may be inoperable by other surgeons may find that the head and neck surgeons at Fox Chase Cancer Center can offer a solution, given their depth of experience.

One of the following procedures may be used:

  • Thyroid lobectomy: Removal of the lobe in which thyroid cancer is found. Thyroid cancer may spread to lymph nodes around the gland. These may be sampled during surgery if they appear suspicious. 
  • Total thyroidectomy: Removal of the entire thyroid.
  • Neck dissection (or a lymphadenectomy): Removal of lymph nodes in the neck containing cancer. Removal of lymph nodes next to the thyroid is called a central compartment or Level 6 neck dissection. Removal of lymph nodes further away from the thyroid is called a lateral neck dissection.

The extent of thyroid surgery required for each patient depends on many factors. You may be a candidate for minimally-invasive surgery, which leaves very little scarring on the neck after surgery. Our surgeons frequently perform surgery for both localized and advanced cancers, as well as repeat surgery after failed surgery performed at other facilities.

Surgeons at Fox Chase are committed to delivering results that will preserve voice function and quality of life. To that end, surgeons use state-of-the-art technologies to monitor the laryngeal nerves in real time during the operation. The objective is to make surgery as safe and effective as possible and enable patients to return to prior level of functioning as soon as possible.

Thyroid hormone therapy

Patients who have had their thyroid removed require lifelong thyroid hormone replacement. However, thyroid hormone is also an effective way to treat thyroid cancer and prevent recurrence. Thyroid hormone is given in slightly higher than normal doses to inhibit the body from making thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates growth in remaining cancer cells. By keeping the body’s TSH low, the thyroid hormone inhibits the growth of any remaining thyroid cancer cells.

Radioactive iodine therapy (RAI) taken by mouth, is sometimes used to treat follicular and papillary thyroid cancers. After surgical removal of the thyroid cancer, radioactive iodine is selectively drawn to any remaining thyroid tissue, including thyroid cancer cells that have spread to other places in the body. Only thyroid tissue takes up iodine, allowing the RAI to destroy thyroid cancer cells without harming other tissue in the body. Before a full treatment dose of RAI is given, a small test dose is given to see if the tumor takes up the iodine.

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. It may be given after surgery to kill thyroid cancer cells that were not removed. This type of radiation is rarely needed for the vast majority of thyroid cancer.

Fox Chase offers advanced radiation therapy technology, including intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), image guided radiotherapy (IGRT), and stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT). Our patients also have access to similar advanced technology at Fox Chase’s outpatient radiation therapy center in Buckingham, PA.

Systemic Therapy

The medical oncologists at Fox Chase Cancer Center are regional and national leaders in the treatment of thyroid cancer. As part of the multidisciplinary team, your medical oncologist will help to determine your personalized treatment plan, which may include systemic therapies, such as targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy, either as standard of care or as part of a clinical trial.

Systemic therapy may be given before or after surgery to patients with muscle invasive or advanced cancer. It may also be recommended to patients who are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer).

Clinical Trials

Fox Chase actively participates in a number of clinical trials for patients with head and neck cancer. In addition to receiving excellent care, our patients also benefit from the groundbreaking research that we do to expand our understanding of new thyroid cancer therapies and treatments. We encourage eligible patients to participate in clinical trials that are available and appropriate for their stage and type of thyroid cancer.

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