Treatment overview

The treatment you have will depend on the stage of your cancer and your general health. Follicular and papillary thyroid cancers can usually be treated successfully and most people are cured.

Surgery is usually the first treatment. You may also have treatment with radioactive iodine or thyroid replacement therapy. Occasionally, you may have external beam radiotherapy, targeted therapies or chemotherapy.


Surgery is usually the main treatment for thyroid cancer. Your surgeon may advise you to have:

  • all of the thyroid gland removed (total thyroidectomy)
  • part of the thyroid gland removed (lobectomy or partial thyroidectomy).

Sometimes the surgeon will also remove the lymph nodes and tissue around the thyroid gland.

After thyroid surgery, you may need to take thyroid hormone therapy. This is to replace the hormones that the thyroid gland normally makes.

Thyroid replacement therapy

Your doctor may advise you to take thyroxine (levothyroxine) tablets. Thyroxine is a type of thyroid hormone (T4). It is given to:

  • replace the thyroid hormones that you will no longer be able to make if the thyroid gland has been removed
  • reduce the risk of your cancer coming back after treatment.

After surgery, until you can have radioactive iodine treatment, you may be given the thyroid hormone liothyronine (T3).

Some people are given a combination of T3 and T4.

Radioactive iodine

Your doctor may suggest you have radioactive iodine after your surgery.

External beam radiotherapy

Occasionally, external beam radiotherapy is used to treat follicular and papillary thyroid cancer.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies are newer drugs that target the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. Your doctor may suggest them if your cancer comes back after other treatments.


Chemotherapy is not usually used to treat follicular or papillary thyroid cancer. Your doctor may suggest it if your cancer comes back after other treatments.

I was encouraged by how treatable thyroid cancer is and I was well supported by family, friends, and work. But it was still hard coming to terms with “the C-word”.


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The stage of a cancer describes its size and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.