Hearing the word cancer from a doctor can be one of the most difficult things to handle. Often, the mind begins to wonder about what lies ahead and how will I tell my family. Meanwhile, the doctor continues to talk and information is missed. It is truly hard to process all the information passed along, especially when the emotions of a cancer diagnosis often confuse the otherwise clear-thinking brain. This page is an overview of some of the things you may have heard if you've been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Each case is unique, so please don't substitute anything here for your doctor's expert advice. You need to know what applies to your individual case - you don't need to know everything there is to know about thyroid cancer in general (that's my job! - and it takes a tremendous amounts of my time to do it!). So, always follow the advice of your physician - whether that's me or another thyroid cancer expert. 

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer is broken down into two basic categories:

  1. Differentiated Thyroid Cancer (DTC)
  2. Undifferentiated Thyroid Cancer (UDTC)

Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

Most thyroid cancer falls under the first category, differentiated thyroid cancer. These cancers generally have very good prognosis and patients have multiple treatments available. The best and primary treatment method is surgical removal of the disease. No other treatment even comes close to the excellent results obtained from surgical removal in expert hands.  There are additional (or adjuvant) treatments available for selected cases - these include:

  • radioactive iodine treatment(s)
  • external beam radiation
  • new therapeutic medications (tyrosine kinase inhibitors)

There are two basic types of differentiated thyroid cancer - papillary and follicular. Papillary is by far the most common type and caries the best prognosis. However, there are several subtypes of papillary cancer that behave more aggressively than the common 'classical' variant. To make matters even more confusing, there is a 'follicular variant of papillary carcinoma' which is different than 'follicular carcinoma'.  Treatment recommendations are always made with the particular subtype in mind. 

For most patients, treatment of these types of thyroid cancer will follow a standard sequence: