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Thyroid Cancer Treatment

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Thyroid Cancer Treatment on Staten Island, NY

While less common than other types of cancer, thyroid cancer still impacts thousands of patients each year. Since many cases of thyroid cancer present no symptoms, the disease can be difficult to detect. However, with proper treatment, the outlook for a healthy recovery is high. Serving Staten Island, New York, Richmond University Medical Center offers several thyroid cancer treatments in the Oncology Department, including surgical and nonsurgical options.

What Is Thyroid Cancer?

Located at the base of the neck, the thyroid gland is integral for keeping the body healthy. It produces hormones that affect heart rate, blood pressure, weight, and internal temperature. The thyroid contributes to development in children, such as height and muscle growth.

Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in the gland’s tissue become abnormal and increase, ultimately leading to a tumor. The exact cause of thyroid cancer remains unclear. Medical researchers believe certain inherited genetic conditions can heighten the risk for thyroid cancer, as well as excessive exposure to radiation near the neck, especially in younger patients.

Physician discussing treatment options with cancer patient

Types of Thyroid Cancer

There are several types of thyroid cancer, each with varying levels of occurrence. They include:

Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are differentiated thyroid cancers. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type and can develop in patients of all ages. It typically grows slowly and spreads to the lymph nodes of the neck. Even though it tends to spread, papillary thyroid cancer has a favorable prognosis on average.

The follicular cells produce and store hormones. Follicular thyroid cancer begins in these cells and often spreads farther than papillary thyroid cancer to distant organs like the lungs. It is far less common than papillary thyroid cancer.

Both types of differentiated thyroid cancer are easily treatable with surgery, whether or not the patient received radioactive iodine ablation.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

Much rarer than papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer begins in the C cells, which produce calcitonin. Calcitonin regulates calcium in the blood to ensure the body retains healthy levels of the nutrient. In some cases, medullary thyroid cancer is related to genetics or endocrine tumors. The variant is also more aggressive than the previous types mentioned.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most advanced form and generally does not respond well to treatment. Although it is very aggressive, anaplastic thyroid cancer is also incredibly rare.

Thyroid Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that play a crucial role in the immune system. Thyroid lymphoma can either be primary or secondary. Primary lymphoma originates in the thyroid gland, spreading to the lymph nodes and other organs. Secondary lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes or nearby organs and extends into the thyroid gland.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer does not always show noticeable symptoms. However, there are some signs that a patient may have thyroid cancer, with a swollen neck being the most common visible indication (sometimes called a lump or nodule). Other symptoms include:

  • Neck/throat pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes or pain originating in the lymph nodes
  • Hoarseness

Other conditions can also cause these symptoms, so patients should consult their physicians as soon as possible to determine if they have thyroid cancer. Avoid waiting until symptoms worsen.

Risk Factors of Thyroid Cancer

Risk factors are not a surefire indication that a patient will have thyroid cancer. Some people with few or no risk factors for thyroid cancer still develop the disease. However, risk factors can still help in the prevention of thyroid cancer. Some include:

  • Sex: Thyroid cancer affects women more often than men.
  • Age: The risk for the disease peaks in women earlier, meaning women are diagnosed more frequently in their 40s and 50s, whereas men are typically in their 60s and 70s when diagnosed.
  • Family history: If a close relative, such as a sibling or parent, develops thyroid cancer, the patient’s risk increases.
  • Genetic conditions: Thyroid cancer may be inherited or more likely in patients with related conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia.
  • Iodine insufficiency: Follicular thyroid cancer is more common in patients whose diets lack the proper amount of iodine. Conversely, too much iodine can raise the risk of developing papillary thyroid cancer.

Diagnosing Thyroid Cancer

If it is suspected a patient has thyroid cancer, the physician will begin by conducting a physical exam. They will examine the neck for common abnormalities, such as swelling or lumps. They may also ask the patient about their medical history to determine their risk for thyroid cancer. From there, they may refer the patient to a specialist for further diagnostic testing, such as:

Blood Work

Physicians use several blood tests when diagnosing thyroid cancer. Phlebotomists, registered technicians, and other providers who perform pathology lab services are available at Richmond University Medical Center to aid in these diagnoses. Tests for thyroid cancer look at the following:

  • Thyroid hormone levels
  • Tumor markers
  • Thyroglobulin, or Tg, a protein that may be at higher levels because of thyroid cancer
  • High calcitonin and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels, for medullary thyroid cancer

Imaging Techniques

X-rays, CT scans, and positron emission tomography (PET) scans can help with a thyroid cancer diagnosis. The Radiology Department features skilled radiologists and state-of-the-art equipment to offer multiple imaging modalities for diagnosing and treating thyroid cancer.


An ultrasound over the neck can reveal the size of the thyroid gland and show nodules. Part of Richmond Health Network, the Endocrinology Department team performs thyroid ultrasonography to guide cancer diagnoses.

Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy

Fine needle aspiration biopsy helps physicians determine if a nodule is benign or malignant. The endocrinology team provides ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration. A positive result is a strong indication of thyroid cancer, which often leads to surgery to remove the nodule.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment Options

Oncologists deem thyroid cancer highly treatable with early detection. Furthermore, the success rates of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for thyroid cancer are high, especially with early detection.

Nonsurgical Treatments

Depending on the type of thyroid cancer and its stage, oncologists may start conservatively with nonsurgical treatments, such as:

  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy combines multiple drugs into a single treatment to destroy cancer cells. It may be administered to control cancer spread, relieve symptoms, or help patients enter remission.
  • Radiation: Radiation uses high energy from X-rays to eradicate cancer cell DNA, preventing its ability to repair and grow. Richmond University Medical Center offers several types of radiation therapy, including:
    • External beam radiation
    • Systemic radiation treatment
    • Brachytherapy
  • Medication: This innovative treatment allows patients to take oral medications that kill cancer cells.

Surgical Treatments

If conservative treatments do not help, surgery may be necessary to remove the cancer. The oncologists at Richmond University Medical Center perform the following thyroid cancer surgeries:

  • Thyroidectomy or near-total thyroidectomy: Removal of all or part of the thyroid gland.
  • Lobectomy: Removal of the cancerous lobe and isthmus, which is the tissue connecting the two lobes, in the thyroid gland.
  • Lymph node removal: Performed when thyroid cancer spreads to neighboring lymph nodes.

Depending on the extent of the thyroid cancer and the patient’s health, they may go home the same day or stay in the hospital for a few days. Physicians provide instructions for a smooth recovery and discuss possible complications. Recovery time varies depending on the specific procedure. A follow-up appointment may be scheduled, but patients should contact their provider if they notice any troublesome side effects or symptoms.

Trace cancer cells may remain even after surgery. In these cases, the oncologist may use radioactive iodine to target malignant cells and eliminate cancer. Hormone therapy will be necessary to replace the lost hormones from the thyroid gland.

For surgical and nonsurgical treatments, patients can also receive palliative care to have less pain from symptoms and experience an overall higher quality of life with thyroid cancer. Care coordination, pain management, home care management, and referrals to social services are just some aspects of palliative care available at Richmond University Medical Center.

Find the Right Care for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer treatment is available on Staten Island, New York, from the compassionate oncologists at Richmond University Medical Center. Our hospital has been accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer for over 80 consecutive years, making our program the longest consecutively accredited cancer program on Staten Island.  With expertise in many specialties, Richmond University Medical Center can provide comprehensive care to patients from across the New York City Metropolitan Area.

To learn more about thyroid cancer management, contact the Center for Cancer Care by calling 718-818-3000. For more on thyroid cancer surgeries and biopsies, call 718-818-1855. Patients can also contact Richmond University Medical Center to make an appointment today.