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Our Approach to Thyroid Cancer Treatment

  • Thyroid Cancer Center team leaders Jochen Lorch, MD, MS, Francis Moore, Jr., MD, and Erik Alexander, MD

    Treatment for all types of thyroid cancer

    Because ours is one of the country's largest and most respected thyroid care centers, patients come to Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Thyroid Cancer Center from around the world to be cared for by our highly specialized team. Our experts use novel approaches to the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and management of all forms of thyroid cancer, as well as nodular disease.

    We have deep experience treating all types of thyroid cancer, including:

    • Papillary thyroid cancer: the most common type of thyroid cancers; classified as a differentiated thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is a slow-growing cancer that forms into small, finger-like shapes.
    • Follicular thyroid cancer: A slow-growing thyroid cancer that forms in the follicular cells of the thyroid. This type is also classified as a differentiated thyroid cancer.
    • Medullary thyroid cancer: Cancer that develops in the C cells of the thyroid.
    • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: A rare, aggressive type of thyroid cancer categorized as an undifferentiated thyroid cancer. The malignant cells in this type of cancer look very different from normal thyroid cells.

    Molecular and genetic analysis

    Our Center's endocrinologists and cytopathologists are leaders in the use of diagnostic molecular markers – including gene expression classification and gene mutation panels – to improve accuracy in distinguishing between benign and malignant disease.

    We use a variety of advanced molecular and genetic analytical techniques to:

    • Confirm a new diagnosis of thyroid cancer
    • Assess recurrent or malignant disease
    • Evaluate thyroid nodular disease

    Treatment options

    Surgery

    The primary treatment for early stage thyroid cancer is surgery. This can involve removing part of, or the entire, thyroid. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, a lymphadenectomy may be performed, as well. Subsequent surgeries can be performed to remove cancer cells that return.

    We focus intensely on – and are internationally known for – our high degree of surgical safety and service. In fact, our team-oriented checklists and protocols have influenced thyroid surgery throughout the world. Our surgical protocols include real-time imaging during thyroid surgery, reducing the risk of complications, including injury to nerves and other important structures.

    Our experienced endocrine surgeons and head and neck surgeons from the otolaryngology department perform more than 600 thyroid and related operations every year. We have reduced the rate of complications far below national averages. Over 95% of patients are discharged the same day after lobectomy, or the next day after total thyroidectomy.

    amigo1Innovative surgical developments include the use of the Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating (AMIGO) Suite at Brigham and Women's Hospital for select patients with thyroid and parathyroid tumors. In the AMIGO suite, surgeons employ real-time imaging and 3D models that enhance navigation to identify small tumors, confirm complete resection, and avoid injury to key nerves and blood vessels.

    Radiation therapy

    After surgery, doctors may use radioactive iodine therapy for differentiated thyroid cancers (papillary and follicular). Radioactive iodine and, in some cases, external beam radiation are used to eradicate all cancer cells. With these treatments, the cure rate for differentiated thyroid cancers is more than 90 percent.

    Chemotherapy and clinical trials

    If the thyroid cancer returns and is no longer amenable to surgery or radioactive iodine, a number of new, highly effective therapies are now available. Patients with these forms of thyroid cancer may also consider taking part in a clinical trial. Find out more about current thyroid and other head and neck cancer clinical trials at Dana-Farber or the National Cancer Institute clinical trial database.

    Compassionate care and support

    We understand that cancer affects patients and their families in many ways. So, in addition to providing highly personalized care and attention from our doctors, nurses, technicians, and staff, we offer a wide range of services, before, during, and after treatment, including:


    Read our Insight blog for information and inspiration about treatment for thyroid cancer at Dana-Farber.