Surgery can be used to treat papillary and follicular thyroid cancers, medullary thyroid cancer or anaplastic thyroid cancer. If you have had surgery to remove all of your thyroid gland, you will need to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy tablets every day for the rest of your life.
You may have to take thyroid replacement hormone therapy even if you had just part of your thyroid gland removed. The usual long-term thyroid hormone drug is thyroxine (T4).
If you are likely to need radioactive iodine treatment, you may be given the hormone tablet liothyronine sodium (T3, Triiodothyronine or Tertroxin®).
Thyroid hormone tablets have two functions:
Keeping your body functioning at the correct speed
Without hormone tablets you would develop the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism. These include:
Reducing the risk of your cancer coming back
Thyroxine stops your body making thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid to produce thyroid hormones. But in people who have had papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, it can also encourage thyroid cancer cells to grow.
So, if you have had your thyroid gland removed, you may will have thyroxine at a your thyroid replacement therapy dosage may be slightly higher dose than normal. This is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery. This is called TSH suppression and will be part of your ongoing cancer care treatment.
Your doctor will tell you when to start taking hormone replacement tablets.
When you start taking them:
- It is important to remember to take your tablets every day.
- You should swallow your tablets with plenty of water.
- Take them 30 to 45 minutes before breakfast or your first meal of the day.
- You should take them without any other medications.
Other important information
Calcium supplements may affect the way your body absorbs the thyroid hormone replacement tablets. If you take calcium supplements, you should take them at least four hours before or after taking your thyroid hormone tablets.
It is important to check with your pharmacist that the type of thyroid hormone tablets they have given you are exactly as prescribed. If you have any questions about your medication you should speak to your doctor, nurse specialist or pharmacist.
You will be carefully monitored in a specialist clinic to make sure you are having the correct dose of thyroid hormone tablets. You will have regular blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood. It can sometimes take many months to find the right dose of thyroid hormones for you. You may have a variety of symptoms, such as tiredness, during this time. Once the correct dose is found, you should not have any side effects from the tablets as they are simply replacing the hormones that your thyroid gland would have produced naturally.