Thumbnail image of: Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands: Illustration

Cancer of the Thyroid Discharge Information

What is cancer of the thyroid?

Cancer of the thyroid (thyroid cancer) is an abnormal growth of cells in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a small gland in the lower front of your neck. It takes iodine from the food you eat to make hormones. The hormones control the process of turning the food you eat into energy. If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still thyroid cancer, and is called metastatic thyroid cancer.

There are different types and stages of thyroid cancer based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing the type and stage of thyroid cancer you have helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat thyroid cancer as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a localized cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

The greatest risk factor for developing thyroid cancer is a history of radiation to the head or neck. You are also more at risk for thyroid cancer if you have a family history of thyroid cancer, are female, or Asian.

How can I take care of myself when I go home?

Thyroid cancer can be cured, depending on where the cancer is located, how large it was when you were diagnosed, and whether the cancer has spread. How long it takes to get better depends on your treatment, how well you recover, your overall health, and any complications you may have. You may need to make lifestyle changes to stay as healthy as possible or manage other treatments you may need.

Management

  • Your provider will give you a list of your medicines when you leave the hospital.
    • Know your medicines. Know what they look like, how much you should take each time, how often you should take them, and why you take each one.
    • Take your medicines exactly as your provider tells you to.
    • Carry a list of your medicines in your wallet or purse. Include any nonprescription medicines and supplements on the list.
    • Talk to your provider before you use any other medicines, including nonprescription medicines.
  • Your provider may also prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent anemia, which means you have too few red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your body. Anemia may be caused by your cancer, your treatment, or other problems
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Help your immune system fight cancer
  • If you have had surgery, to care for your surgical wound:
    • Keep your surgical wound clean.
    • If you are told to change the dressing on your surgical wound, wash your hands before changing the dressing and after disposing of the dressing.
  • Follow activity restrictions, such as not driving or operating machinery, as recommended by your healthcare provider or pharmacist, especially if you are taking pain medicines or muscle relaxants.
  • Take care of your health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • You may need other treatments for your cancer after you leave the hospital. Treatments may include:
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Different types of chemotherapy may be given in the hospital, outpatient clinic, or at home.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment may be done in the hospital or and outpatient clinic.
    • Biological or targeted therapy, which uses medicine designed to block the growth of cancer cells.

Appointments

  • Follow your provider’s instructions for follow-up appointments and routine tests.
  • Keep appointments for all other testing you may need, which may be done to look for signs that the cancer has returned or has spread. Testing may include:
    • Ultrasound scan: Sound waves to show pictures of the inside of the neck and thyroid gland
    • Bone scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows any areas of bone where the radioactive material is being absorbed.
    • Chest X-ray: Pictures of the inside of your chest to check for cancer
    • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of the neck and other areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of the neck and other areas where the cancer may have spread
    • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A test in which you will be given an injection of a low-level radioactive material attached to a natural body chemical. The scan shows where the radioactive material went and how much of it the tumors are using.
  • Talk with your provider about any questions or concerns you have.

Call emergency medical services or 911 if you have new or worsening:

  • Swelling of the throat that causes trouble swallowing or drooling
  • Trouble breathing

Do not drive yourself if you have any of these symptoms.

Call your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening:

  • Cough
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dehydration, which means losing too much fluid from your body. This can often happen if you have frequent vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Deep bone pain
  • Depression
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound. These include:
    • The area around your surgical wound is more red, painful, or very warm to touch
    • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area
    • You have a fever of 100.5 degrees F (38.1 degrees C) or higher
    • You have chills or muscle aches

For more information:

Contact national and local organizations such as:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-19
Last reviewed: 2014-12-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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