Thyroid cancer treatments and therapies

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.


Treatment and therapy types for thyroid cancer


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 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: learn more