Thyroid Cancer Treatment

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Finding the right place to get thyroid cancer treatment can be overwhelming. There's so much to figure out. You don't just want the best. You need care that's the best for you.

At UVA Health, you'll find a team of experts in thyroid cancer care. With a deep level of expertise, our experts helped develop the guidelines for treating thyroid cancer that has spread to places like the carotid artery or windpipe (trachea). 

Treatment for even these aggressive, advanced thyroid cancers has come far. We've even been able to offer a cure for some people facing a disease that long had a less than 1-year life expectancy.

A Second Opinion

After receiving a devastating prognosis for aggressive thyroid cancer, Lorraine came to UVA for a second opinion. View transcript.

Advanced Thyroid Cancer Treatment at UVA Health

UVA Health is home to Virginia's first National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center. This title means we're a leader in cancer research, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Our excellence goes beyond treatment. You'll also discover a deep level of commitment to you as a person. We work with you and your family to make a plan that gives you the best possible outcome. 

Very few centers have a thyroid cancer tumor board. This means a team of experts comes together to review your case. They'll review the tumor's genetic profile, imaging, and pathology reports of tissue samples. Together, they'll come up with the best treatment plan. 

Surgery for Thyroid Cancer

We treat most thyroid cancers with surgery. We remove part or all of your thyroid.

Although rare, aggressive thyroid cancers can spread to the windpipe and other areas. At UVA Health, you'll find the expertise to successfully treat even these more advanced cancers.

We even have a treatment to shrink thyroid tumors so we can then operate on them. We need to shrink them so we can remove the cancer without damaging your voice or breathing ability.


We offer intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This therapy targets high-dose radiation on the tumor with great precision. The radiation kills the tumor without hurting healthy tissue. For you, this means fewer side effects and an easier recovery.  

Radioactive Iodine Therapy

Your thyroid gland takes in nearly all of the body's iodine. This means we can give you radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid tissue - and thus the cancer.

We can even use this method to kill any thyroid cancer that has spread to lymph nodes and other places. 

This therapy doesn't hurt other parts of your body. If you have questions about the use of radiation in therapy, ask your care team. We can walk you through the process.

Types of Thyroid Tumors

Most thyroid tumors are not cancer. These thyroid nodules are benign. Only about 10% of these are cancerous. The four main types of thyroid cancer include:

  • Papillary and follicular thyroid cancer 
  • Medullary thyroid cancer 
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer 
  • Hurthle cell cancer 

We can treat most types of thyroid cancer with a small surgery.

Anaplastic is one of the most aggressive types of thyroid cancer. For many years, we had no treatment for it. But now we know certain types of anaplastic thyroid cancer respond well to targeted therapy.

If you have anaplastic thyroid cancer, we'll test the cancer for a certain genetic mutation. If we find the mutation, we can then treat your cancer. This treatment helps shrink the tumor so we can then remove the cancer with surgery.

Is it Thyroid Cancer?

Symptoms of thyroid cancer include:

  • Swelling or lump in neck 
  • Neck pain 
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Noisy breathing, wheezing 
  • Cough 
  • Difficulty swallowing

The diagnosis and prognosis of thyroid cancer requires a number of blood and physical exams, as well as imaging scans.

Who's at Risk for Thyroid Cancer?

Women are about three times as likely as men to develop this type of cancer. The average thyroid cancer patient is 45–50 years old when diagnosed. Older people are more likely to develop aggressive types of thyroid cancer like anaplastic.

Your risk of developing cancer increases due to:

  • Family history and genetic makeup    
  • Exposure to radiation    
  • Iodine deficiency  
  • Geographic location (Incidence of thyroid cancer is highest in the Hawaiian and Polynesian islands and lowest in Poland)

If you carry the RET gene, you may be advised to have your thyroid removed at a very early age to avoid the very high risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer. After your thyroid is removed, you'll need to take medicine daily. This medicine replaces the hormone produced by your thyroid.