Thyroid cancer

One of the most survivable types of cancer, thyroid cancer forms in the thyroid gland, an organ at the base of the throat that affects heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. People ages 20 to 55 account for nearly two of three occurrences. Because thyroid cancer can return, lifelong monitoring is needed.

Thyroid cancer: learn more

Team-based treatment at UCHealth

Man talking to providerAt UCHealth facilities across the Colorado Front Range, a caring team of doctors and support professionals from many fields work together to develop the best plan of care for you, and they stay with you from your initial appointment through treatment and aftercare.

Multidisciplinary care for advanced or rare thyroid cancers

You benefit from the latest research, treatment, and support at the only multidisciplinary thyroid cancer clinic in the Rocky Mountain region. It’s all part of UCHealth’s Endocrine Neoplasms program offering nationally recognized experts skilled in sensitive ultrasound examination of the neck and biopsies of abnormal tissue.

As someone experiencing an advanced or rare thyroid cancer, you’re evaluated jointly by our medical oncologists, endocrinologists, thyroid cancer surgeons, and radiation oncologists who work together to create a specialized care plan that meets your specific needs.

Advanced research & treatment technology

When you choose UCHealth, you gain access to the most comprehensive and advanced radiation therapies in the Rocky Mountain region.

Options may include IMRT—intensity modulated radiation therapy—an individualized, 3-D computer-based treatment that delivers high doses of radiation to precisely targeted tumors while sparing surrounding tissue. We also offer stereotactic radiation, which uses a highly focused beam directed toward a small, localized tumor, and, if needed, we conduct re-irradiation procedures.

Treatment and therapy types for thyroid cancer

Treatment for thyroid cancer varies greatly from person to person. Your medical team may use any combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or drug therapy to treat or control your cancer.


Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer and may involve one of these procedures:

  • Lobectomy. Removes only the side of the thyroid where the cancer is found
  • Near-total thyroidectomy. Removes the entire thyroid except for one small part
  • Total thyroidectomy. Removes the entire thyroid
  • Lymph node dissection. Removes lymph nodes in the neck that contain cancer

Thyroid cancer surgeons at UCHealth are experts in the removal of recurrent cancer with alcohol ablation for those who have experienced multiple neck surgeries.

Typically, surgical removal of the thyroid is followed six to eight weeks later by treatment with radioactive iodine to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Radioactive Iodine Therapy

Radioactive iodine is administered orally in capsule form. When you receive this treatment, you’ll be placed in isolation either at the hospital or at home to reduce possible contamination of others. Our nuclear medicine specialists use their dosimetry expertise to calculate the doses of radioiodine that are most effective and safest for you.

Before you begin radioactive iodine therapy, you may need to stop taking your standard thyroid hormone for three to six weeks, so the radioactive iodine can work. During this period, you can expect to feel very tired, cold, and constipated, and you may have difficulty concentrating or controlling emotions. The day after you receive your radioactive iodine treatment, you’ll begin taking thyroid hormone again and should start to feel better in two to four weeks.

After your radioiodine treatment, you’ll receive a scan to determine whether you need more. Once treatment is complete, you’ll need lifelong hormone replacement therapy and evaluation.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs that slow down, damage, or kill cancer cells. It may involve single drugs or combinations of drugs taken intravenously or by mouth. Chemotherapy is often taken in cycles lasting three or four weeks each. Your team may also prescribe drugs to reduce or eliminate chemotherapy’s side effects.

External Beam Radiation

Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays focused on a specific area to eliminate cancer cells that could not be removed surgically or with radioiodine therapy. The radiation kills cancer cells, prevents cancer cells from developing or recurring, and improves many of cancer’s symptoms.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

If your thyroid gland is removed, hormone replacement therapy replicates important hormones that you no longer produce. You will need to take a hormone replacement pill daily for the rest of your life.

Thyroid cancer staging and detection

Because no two people develop thyroid cancer in the same way, we offer a wide array of resources for proper evaluation of your situation—and we use that information to create a personalized plan that fits your specific needs.


Tests and procedures to find and classify (stage) thyroid cancer

Once a cancer has been diagnosed, our specialists need to know where it may have spread. This is the “stage” of the cancer. The lower the number, the less it has spread. Knowing the stage allows your medical team to determine the best possible treatment plan for you.

Any combination of these tests and procedures may be used to find and classify (stage) thyroid cancers:

  • Biopsy. Removes cells or tissues for viewing under a microscope to check for signs of cancer
  • Blood test. Analyzes a sample of blood to help diagnose or treat a disease
  • CT scan (computed tomography). Uses a type of X-ray to create detailed, highly accurate, cross-sectional images of the body
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Uses a magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide detailed images of body structures
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography). Uses an injection of a short-lived radioactive substance to create detailed images of body structures that help identify cancer and areas of inflammation in different parts of the body
  • Sensitive serum thyroglobulin testing. Assesses the level of thyroglobulin, which is made only by thyroid cells and thyroid cancer cells
  • Ultrasound – Uses high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) to bounce off internal tissues or organs and make images of body tissues (sonogram)
  • X-ray. Uses a special type of energy beam to create images of the organs and bones inside body

As an alternative to withdrawing from thyroid hormone for some necessary tests, we offer Thyrogen®, a recombinant human thyroid stimulating hormone.

Five-year thyroid cancer survival rates

Chart comparing all stages Thyroid Cancer UCHealth 96.5% survival rate to Colorado state average of 95.3%

Chart comparing stage 1 Thyroid Cancer UCHealth 99.3% survival rate to Colorado state average of 98.4%

Chart comparing stage 2 Thyroid Cancer UCHealth 98.4% survival rate to Colorado state average of 94.7%

 

Chart comparing stage 3 Thyroid Cancer UCHealth 94.5% survival rate to Colorado state average of 96.1%

Chart comparing stage 4 Thyroid Cancer UCHealth 76.7% survival rate to Colorado state average of 70.0%

 

Number of Patients Diagnosed – UCHealth 1,007 – State of Colorado – 3,639
Number of Patients Surviving – UCHealth 972 – State of Colorado – 3,468
*n<30, 5 Year Survival – (Date of diagnosis 1/1/2010–12/31/2014)
Data Source: Colorado State Cancer Registry

National Cancer Institute (NCI). Thyroid Cancer (https://www.cancer.gov/types/thyroid)

American Thyroid Association. Thyroid Cancer (Papillary and Follicular) (https://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-cancer/)

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Thyroid Cancer (https://medlineplus.gov/thyroidcancer.html)

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Thyroid Cancer (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459299/)