Radiation Therapy for Thyroid Cancers

Doctors at NYU Langone may prescribe radiation therapy—in which energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells—in people with advanced thyroid cancer that does not respond to radioactive iodine therapy.

NYU Langone doctors may use external beam radiation therapy, which uses a machine called a linear accelerator. External beam radiation therapy is typically given after surgery for thyroid cancers that do not absorb radioactive iodine, including many forms of cancer that have spread.

External beam radiation therapy can help destroy any remaining thyroid cancer cells, including those that have spread to lymph nodes in the neck or other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver. This form of radiation may also be used to treat these forms of thyroid cancer in people who cannot have surgery due to poor health.

Radiation Treatment Planning

Our radiation oncologists use CT, MRI, or PET scans in conjunction with treatment planning software to customize therapy. The planning software creates a three-dimensional image of the treatment area and surrounding structures, such as the recurrent laryngeal nerve, which provides movement to the larynx, or voice box. This helps our doctors target the cancer and minimize damage to healthy tissue.

What to Expect During Radiation Therapy

Doctors may use intensity modulated radiation therapy, in which radiation beams are broken into many small, computer-controlled doses of different strengths. These “minibeams” come from different directions and are tailored to the size, shape, and location of the tumor.

The radiation beams may be aimed at the area where the thyroid gland was removed or at cancerous lymph nodes in people who cannot undergo surgery. Treatment is delivered in small doses—or fractions—once a day, five days a week, for six or seven weeks.

Radiation therapy may cause side effects such as fatigue and dry mouth. Your doctor may prescribe medication and refer you to NYU Langone’s integrative health services for help in minimizing side effects.