Follow-up and recovery

You will have regular check-ups and tests after your treatment. How often you have these will depend on your individual situation. You may feel anxious about these appointments, but this is natural.

Tests you may have include:

  • thyroglobulin blood test
  • ultrasound scan
  • radioactive iodine scan
  • further tests – you may have an MRI, a CT or a PET-CT scan.

Many people survive differentiated thyroid cancer, but it may take time to get back to the things you used to do.

Once you have recovered you may wish to make some changes to your lifestyle. Small, achievable changes such as eating more healthily, taking more exercise and giving up smoking can make a difference.

Follow-up

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

I have check-ups and an ultrasound every six months. I tell myself that if it comes back it can be treated and sorted well.

Dave


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’ll need to have a scan.

This test uses radioactive iodine, which is injected into a vein in your arm. After about 20 minutes, you’ll 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 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 raised or your scan shows any abnormal areas, you may have further tests. These may include:

  • an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
  • CT (computerised tomography) scan
  • PET-CT (positron emission tomography) scan.


Well-being and recovery

Many people survive follicular and papillary thyroid cancer. But it may be some time after treatment before you feel fit and well again. Some people have treatment side effects that slowly improve over time, while others may have ongoing side effects. Instead of having specific treatment side effects, you may have a range of other effects, such as: 

Taking good care of yourself may help you recover more quickly.


Positive lifestyle choices

Some people want to make lifestyle changes after cancer. You might choose to just make a few changes, or completely change the way you live. Following a healthy lifestyle does not need to be difficult or expensive.

Living a healthy lifestyle can sometimes seem hard work. You might think you need to deny yourself all the pleasures in life. But it is about making small, achievable changes to your life that will improve your health and well-being. Your healthy lifestyle will be individual to you. What is right for you may not be right for someone else.

A healthy lifestyle can include:

  • having a well-balanced diet
  • getting some exercise
  • reducing stress
  • being involved in your healthcare.

You will need to think about any side effects of treatment when planning changes to your diet and exercise. Try not to do too much, too soon.

Diet and exercise

A well-balanced diet should include:

  • plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions a day)
  • foods high in fibre, such as beans and cereals
  • plenty of water or other non-alcoholic fluids.

Try to reduce your intake of:

  • red meat and animal fats
  • alcohol
  • salted, pickled and smoked foods.

Talk to your specialist or a dietitian at the hospital before making major changes to your diet. It is a good idea to discuss your plans with them.

If you smoke, try to stop. Stopping has many health benefits and reduces your risk of other diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.

Exercise does not have to be too tiring. You can start gently and build up the amount of physical activity you do. Whatever your age or physical health, there will be some kind of exercise you could try. For example, you may want to do walking, hiking, cycling or swimming. Activities like gardening, dancing and playing sport are also good to try.

Reducing stress

Finding ways to reduce and manage stress can help you live a healthy lifestyle. The way people manage stress varies. You may want to think about what works for you, or try out new ways to manage stress. Exercise and a healthy diet can help to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help to find some time for yourself every day when you can fully relax. Some people find that complementary therapies, relaxation techniques or even starting a new hobby can help.


Getting help and support

Different people can help you during and after treatment.


Practical help

If you need help at home during or after treatment, a nurse or hospital social worker may be able to arrange this. If you have children, the social worker may arrange help with childcare. We have information about organising childcare that you may find helpful.

A social worker or benefits adviser can tell you about benefits you may be able to claim and possible help with other costs.

If you need help with a wound, district nurses can visit you at home to help with this.

Emotional help

It’s common to have different, and sometimes difficult, feelings after cancer treatment. But as you recover and get back to your everyday life, these usually get easier to deal with. Talking to family and friends often helps.

If you think you may be depressed or feel helpless or anxious a lot of the time, talk to your cancer specialist or nurse. They can refer you to a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in the emotional problems people with cancer often have. Our cancer support specialists can tell you more about counselling and let you know about services in your area.

Complementary therapies

Some people find that complementary therapies help them relax or cope with treatment or side effects. Some hospitals or support groups offer therapies such as relaxation or aromatherapy.

Support groups

Self-help or support groups offer a chance to talk to other people who understand what you’re going through. We have more information about support groups in the UK.

Online support

Many people get support on the internet. There are online support groups, social networking sites, forums, chat rooms and blogs for people affected by cancer. You can use these to share your experience and ask questions, get advice or just read about other people’s experiences.

Our Online Community is a social networking site where you can talk to people in our chat rooms, write blogs, make friends and join support groups.

Back to Treating

Making treatment decisions

Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.

Surgery

Surgery for thyroid cancer removes part or all of the thyroid gland.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays, usually x-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat cancer.

Chemotherapy explained

Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat cancer. Understand how chemotherapy works and how you can prepare.

Clinical trials

Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.