Diseases & Conditions

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

The thyroid gland and thyroid cancer

The thyroid is a small gland found at the base of the neck. It produces hormones that regulate our body temperature, metabolism and heart rate.

Thyroid cancer develops in the cells of the thyroid gland. Thankfully, thyroid cancer responds well to treatment and has a high cure rate. As with all cancers, diagnosing the disease early increases the chances of successful treatment.

Treatment of thyroid cancer requires a highly specialized team which includes endocrinologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists. The team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Thyroid Cancer Program are among the most experienced in the region, which provides an important differentiating factor when it comes to improving patient outcomes.

To learn more about the signs, symptoms and types of thyroid cancer, click here.

Treating thyroid cancer

Once thyroid cancer has been diagnosed and staged, your doctor will discuss the most appropriate treatment options with you. Treatment will depend on many factors, including the size of the tumor and whether it has spread.

Treatment options include:


Surgery is the primary treatment for thyroid cancer. The type of surgery performed will depend on the cancer’s location and size. There are two main types of surgery for thyroid cancer:

  • Partial Thyroidectomy: This is surgery to remove a part of the thyroid gland.
  • Total Thyroidectomy: This is surgery to remove all of the thyroid gland.

If the cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, then these will also be removed during surgery.

Once surgery has been performed, other types of treatment, as listed below, may be initiated.

Radioactive iodine therapy

A pill (or liquid) is swallowed which contains radioactive iodine. This is at a higher dose than the iodine given during diagnostic tests. The substance is absorbed by the body and is picked up by the thyroid cancer cells (the thyroid gland absorbs and stores iodine in our bodies), as well as cancer cells that may have traveled elsewhere in the body.

The radioactive iodine then destroys the cancerous cells. This type of treatment is called targeted radiotherapy, as it goes directly to the cancer without affecting healthy parts of the body. The treatment is safe, and you will stay in the hospital in a single room for a few days following treatment, until the radiation has left the body and radiation levels have fallen.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high doses of energy to destroy cancer cells. The energy damages the DNA of the cancer cells so they can’t replicate and grow. The aim of treatment is to target the cancer cells as precisely as possible so that healthy cells that surround the cancer aren’t damaged, which in turn minimizes side effects. There are two main types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy: This uses a machine outside of the body to deliver radiation. There are many different types of external radiation therapy machines, and the type used will depend on the type of cancer and its location.
  • Internal radiation therapy: This treatment delivers radiation from inside the body. It delivers radiation close to the site of the cancer and damages fewer healthy cells.

Protein-kinase inhibitors

Protein-kinase inhibitors are a type of therapy called targeted cancer drugs. There are many different types of targeted cancer drugs which can treat different types of cancer. For thyroid cancer, tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are given. There a several types of TKI, and the one given will depend on the type of thyroid cancer.

TKIs work by blocking a chemical messenger found in cancer cells called tyrosine kinase. They change the way that the cells signal to each other and are able to control the growth of cancer cells. Some types of TKIs, called multi-kinase inhibitors, can block more than one kinase protein and can also stop tumors from forming new blood vessels, which stops them from growing.

If thyroid cancer is at an advanced stage, or it has returned, other treatments may be given, including hormone therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Learn more about different treatments for cancer here.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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