Treatments may include radioactive iodine, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted therapy depending on the stage and type of cancer.
Radioactive iodine will destroy anything that’s left of your thyroid, and help to mop up thyroid cancer that’s spread to other parts of your body. It’s useful for papillary and follicular thyroid cancer that has spread. If you have this therapy, you’ll become radioactive for several days and need to keep your distance from other people, especially children and pregnant women.
Side effects include neck tenderness and swelling, nausea and vomiting, swelling and tenderness of the salivary glands, dry mouth, taste changes and dry eyes.
Women should avoid becoming pregnant for at least a year after radioactive iodine therapy as it can affect the foetus. Your fertility (male or female) can be affected, especially if you have multiple treatments.
External beam radiation therapy
This therapy focuses radiation on your neck to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It’s used for cancers that don’t respond to radioactive iodine, like medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer. It’s also used for other thyroid cancers that have spread.
Short-term side effects include pain, skin changes, trouble swallowing, dry mouth, hoarseness and tiredness.
Although it has limited usefulness in thyroid cancer, chemotherapy — injectable anti-cancer drugs— may be combined with external beam radiation therapy for anaplastic thyroid cancer and other advanced cancers that haven’t responded to other treatments.
Side effects include hair loss, sore mouth, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, reduced immunity, heart problems, hearing loss, easy bruising, tiredness and anaemia.
For advanced medullary thyroid cancer there are tablets that can help stop the cancer from growing. They include vandetanib (Caprelsa®) and cabozantinib Cometriq®)
For papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, sorafenib (Nexavar®) and lenvatinib (Lenvima®) may be used.
These targeted drugs have a long list of side effects. Some of the drugs are not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for use in thyroid cancer and so they may be expensive. Talk to your doctor about your options before deciding on a targeted therapy.
While there are no complementary therapies that cure cancer, some people find them effective in reducing the side effects of treatment and/or pain and distress. They include relaxation therapy, yoga, music therapy, stress management, guided imagery, prayer and meditation.
Other commonly used complementary therapies are support groups and massage. Lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet and exercise can also be helpful.
If you look online, you may be tempted by costly therapies whose effectiveness and safety is unproven.
It’s important to discuss your plan to use complementary therapies with your doctor ahead of time. Therapies that involve dietary restrictions or untested substances can be unsafe. There’s also the risk of interactions with your other treatments.
For more information about thyroid cancer and its treatment read Understanding Thyroid Cancer.