Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Thyroid & Endocrine Cancers

Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer of the endocrine system, which is a collection of hormone-producing glands that control basic body functions.

Treatment

Surgery

Surgery is the main treatment for thyroid cancer and is used in nearly every case, except perhaps some anaplastic thyroid cancers.

Lobectomy—This operation is sometimes used for differentiated thyroid cancers that are small and that show no signs of spread beyond the thyroid gland. The lobe containing the cancer is removed, usually along with the isthmus.

Thyroidectomy—this is surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

Lymph Node Removal—If cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the neck, these will be removed. This is especially important for treatment of medullary thyroid cancer and for anaplastic cancer.

Hormone Therapy

Taking daily thyroid hormone pills can serve two purposes:

  • Help maintain the body’s normal metabolism (by replacing missing thyroid hormone)
  • Help stop cancer cells from growing (by lowering TSH levels)

After a thyroidectomy, the body is no longer able to make the thyroid hormone it needs, so patients must take thyroid hormone pills to replace the loss of the natural hormone. Thyroid hormone may also help prevent some thyroid cancers from returning.

Diagnosis

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for thyroid cancer may include one or more of the following:

Fine Needle Aspiration— a thin, hollow needle is placed directly into the thyroid nodule to take out cells and a few drops of fluid. The cells can then be looked at under a microscope to see if they look cancerous or benign.

Chest X-Ray— an x-ray of the chest may be taken to see if cancer has spread to the lungs, especially follicular thyroid cancer.

Ultrasound— this test is useful in determining if a thyroid nodule is solid or filled with fluid.

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT) scan—a CT scan can be used to guide a biopsy needle precisely into a suspected area of cancer spread.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging— an MRI can provide very detailed images of soft tissues such as the thyroid gland.

Radioiodine Scan— often used in the care and management of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer. The iodine is absorbed by the thyroid gland (or thyroid cells anywhere in the body) over time, and a special camera is used several hours later to see where the radioactivity has gone.

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