Radiation Treatment for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer which affects approximately 15,000 individuals annually in North America is not very common. However, it is common enough so that patients should be aware of that possibility,

particularly for those who have a nodule (i.e. a localized swelling) in the thyroid gland. In contrast to other cancers, thyroid cancer is almost always curable.

There are different types of thyroid cancer but the commonest (which occurs in 80% of cases) is known as papillary, follicular or mixed papillary and follicular forms. There are uncommon types affecting the thyroid such as lymphoma, medullary cancer and anaplastic cancer. Thyroid nodules are more common in females than males; however, males have a greater risk than females for cancer occurring in a thyroid nodule.

Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer:

Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer involves external radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a large machine outside of the body to aim radiation at the tumor. Radiation treatment is usually administered five days a week for five to seven weeks. Side effects of undergoing radiation treatment for thyroid cancer can include fatigue, hair loss in the treated area, and red, dry, tender, and itchy skin in the treated area.

Treatment with high-energy radiation from x-ray machines, cobalt, radium, or other sources are important in order to do Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer. Previous exposure to head and neck irradiation in childhood, adolescence or even adulthood has been recognized as an important contributing factor for the development of thyroid cancer.

Years ago, patients received x-ray treatments for acne, skin problems of the face, tuberculosis in the neck, fungus diseases of the scalp, blood vessel tumors of the face, enlarged thymus, tonsillitis, sore throats, chronic coughs, and even excess facial hair. Such therapy is NO longer performed for these problems because it became recognized that the thyroid gland is particularly sensitive to the effects of Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer resulting in thyroid tumors with a 30% risk for cancer.

In addition, patients who require radiation for the treatment of certain types of cancer in or near the head and neck area may also have an increased risk for the development of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer. If you have had Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer, then consultation with your physician would be appropriate to ensure that your thyroid gland is functioning normally and does not have any nodule.

Some adverse reaction in radiation treatment for thyroid cancer

When the neck is treated with external radiation therapy, patients may feel hoarse or have trouble swallowing. Radiation treatment for thyroid cancer may also cause a decrease in the number of white blood cells, which help protect the body against infection. If the blood counts are low, the doctor or nurse may suggest ways to avoid getting an infection, and the patient may not be able to have more radiation therapy until blood counts improve. Doctors will need to check the patient’s blood counts regularly and change the treatment schedule if necessary. Although the side effects of radiation treatment for thyroid cancer can be distressing, the doctor can usually treat or control them. It is important to note that, in most cases, these side effects are not permanent.


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