What is the treatment for papillary thyroid cancer?

There are three main parts to the treatment of papillary thyroid cancer:

  • Surgery: The best treatment for papillary thyroid cancer is almost always total thyroidectomy (i.e. removal of the entire thyroid). There are a few very specific situations in which some doctors will remove only the half of the thyroid with the cancer (i.e. thyroid lobectomy), but most doctors recommend a total thyroidectomy
  • Thyroid Hormone Suppression: After removal of the entire thyroid, patients will need to take thyroid hormone replacement pills (usually one pill a day for the rest of their lives) in order to replace the hormone that the thyroid would normally make
  • Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Ablation: Depending on the final pathology, the patient may need RAI ablation or what some doctors call remnant ablation. RAI ablation is not like the traditional external beam radiation which can be difficult on patients. RAI ablation is a pill that is taken once and usually causes few side effects. In this therapy, radioactive iodine is given to destroy any remaining thyroid cells (both cancer and benign) after total thyroidectomy

If you have a diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) of the thyroid, a total thyroidectomy (removing the whole thyroid gland) is almost always recommended as the first step. If the cancer is very small (less than 1 cm) and limited to one side of the thyroid, some surgeons may only remove one half of the thyroid by performing a thyroid lobectomy. PTC can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck which may be felt pre-operatively on examination or seen on ultrasound and can be biopsied by fine needle aspiration (FNA) if they look suspicious. Removal of these lymph nodes during the thyroid resection is needed if the thyroid cancer is proven to have spread to them.

Radioactive iodine ablation (RAI) is given weeks to months postoperatively depending on the aggressiveness of the cancer based on pathologic findings and whether there is any remaining thyroid tissue. After total thyroidectomy, patients need to take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of their life. Thyroid cancer can come back and therefore you will need long-term follow up after your initial treatment.

For more information go the

Diseases of thyroid gland: Thyroid cancer

Continue Learning about Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Is there a cure for papillary thyroid cancer?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Several treatment options can cure thyroid cancer. You will likely need to have your thyroid surgica...
More Answers
How does papillary thyroid cancer affect the body?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Thyroid cancer can spread to other parts of your body. Sometimes thyroid cancer can spread even afte...
More Answers
Does papillary thyroid cancer affect children differently than adults?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Papillary thyroid cancer usually occurs in older adults. It is rarely seen in children. However, if ...
More Answers
What do I need know about caring for someone with papillary thyroid cancer?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
Someone with papillary thyroid cancer will need to time to recover after treatment. The person will ...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.