Follow up after thyroid cancer treatment

After your treatment for thyroid cancer there are several follow up tests your doctor may want to do.

After your treatment

Your follow-up will depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have and your situation.

This information is about follow-up for follicular and papillary thyroid cancers. We have other information about medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

You usually have regular check-ups every few months in the first year. Eventually they will be reduced to every six months or yearly. Some follow-up appointments are with a nurse or by telephone.

At your appointments, your doctor will examine you and you will have blood tests. They will explain if you need any other tests.

Your appointments are a good time for you to talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about any concerns you have.

You can ask if there are specific symptoms you should look out for and what you can do to help with your recovery. If you notice any new symptoms between appointments, you can contact your doctor or specialist nurse for advice.

Follow-up tests

Thyroglobulin test

Thyroglobulin is a protein that is normally made by the thyroid cells. Papillary or follicular thyroid cancer cells can also produce it. Levels of thyroglobulin can be detected in the blood.

When your thyroid gland has been removed and you have had radioactive iodine to destroy any remaining thyroid cells and thyroid cancer cells, your body should no longer make thyroglobulin. If a small amount of thyroid tissue is left, or there are still some thyroid cancer cells in your body, there will be thyroglobulin in your blood. The thyroglobulin blood test is a useful way to find any remaining papillary or follicular cancer cells. You will have this blood test regularly as part of your follow-up care.


Stimulated thyroglobulin test

This test is done 9 to 12 months after having radioactive iodine treatment. It is used to see if you need any more radioactive iodine.

You may need to stop taking your thyroid hormone replacement some weeks before the blood test. Or you may be given recombinant human thyroid-stimulating hormone (rhTSH) before your blood test. If you have rhTSH, you will not need to stop taking your thyroid hormone replacement tablets.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you information about this.


Ultrasound scan of the neck

You may have a regular ultrasound scan of your neck.


Radioactive iodine scan

Some people may have a radioactive iodine scan a few months after treatment to check whether there are any thyroid cancer cells in their body. Your doctors will tell you if you need to have a scan.

This test uses radioactive iodine, which you take as capsules you swallow or as an injection into a vein in the arm. After about 20 minutes, you will be asked to lie on a couch and a machine called a gamma camera will be positioned over your neck. The scan itself is painless.

To make the scan more sensitive, you may be asked to stop taking your thyroid replacement tablets and have a low-iodine diet for a few weeks before your scan. Or you may be given recombinant human thyroid-stimulating hormone (rhTSH).

Your doctor or nurse will give you more detailed information about this test if you need to have it.


Other scans

If your thyroglobulin level is high, or if your scan shows any abnormal areas, you may have further tests. These may include: