The main treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery. There are a number of operations that can be used to remove thyroid cancer. The type of operation used will depend on the size and location of the cancer.
How can I prepare for the surgery?
Your doctor will explain details of the surgery, general risks and side effects of surgery. Ask your doctor if you have questions. They may recommend:
stopping blood thinners (e.g. aspirin) before surgery to reduce the risk of bleeding
special stockings to reduce the risk of blood clots
early mobilisation (i.e. not staying in bed) to reduce the risk of blood clots and chest infection
antibiotics to lower the risk of wound infection.
If you smoke, it is important that you consider stopping smoking before starting treatment to help reduce the risk of infection and recover after your treatment.
The different surgical options for thyroid cancer are:
This is the removal of the thyroid gland from the neck. If the entire thyroid gland is removed, it is called a total thyroidectomy. If only some of the thyroid gland is removed, it is called a partial or hemi-thyroidectomy.
This involves removal of lymph nodes from the neck. This is important even when there is no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes on your scan, because there is a risk of microscopic cancer in the lymph glands of the neck.
Side effects of surgery
Treatment for thyroid cancer may lead to a number of side effects . You may not experience all of the side effects. Speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about treatment side effects.
Thyroid hormone replacement therapy
Thyroid hormone replacement therapy replaces thyroid in the body, after the thyroid gland is removed by surgery. The thyroid hormone, called thyroxine, is needed by the body to maintain health.
Thyroid hormone replacement helps to keep your body’s metabolism at a normal healthy rate. If you do not have enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) you may have symptoms such as weight gain, constipation, brittle and dry hair, sluggishness and fatigue. Heart problems can occur in severe cases. Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) may cause symptoms such as weight loss, chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeat and feeling hot.
For thyroid replacement, your doctor will prescribe a tablet (every day for the rest of your life). You should take the tablet at the same time every day. Speak to your doctor about all other medications that you take, including dietary supplements such as iron and calcium.
Your doctor will suggest blood tests to monitor your thyroid hormone levels, to help them adjust the dose. Don’t stop taking the thyroxine medicine without discussing it first with the doctor.
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant as a higher dose may be needed.
The dose of thyroid hormone needed is different for every person and may change as a person ages. Talk to your doctor about any signs to look out for.
Taking thyroxine also helps to reduce the risk of cancer coming back, or recurring, by lowering the thyroid stimulating hormone made by your body. Lowering the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) by thyroxine is called ‘TSH suppression’. A higher dose of thyroxine will be used for TSH suppression, if there is a higher risk of the cancer coming back (recurring). Your doctor will monitor the level of your TSH. Sometimes your dose will need to be adjusted, but it is important you do not increase your dose of thyroxine without speaking to your specialist.