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Thyroid Cancer Program

Cancer care as unique as you

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Thyroid Cancer Doctors

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Thyroid cancer is usually slow growing and often detected in its early stages, when the five-year survival rate is more than 98 percent.

Trust us to effectively treat and manage your thyroid or parathyroid cancer because we are the region's only federally recognized Comprehensive Cancer Center. Studies show that patient outcomes are better at these special places. In addition, our cancer care is repeatedly ranked among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report.

All this means you receive truly personalized care, with a team of medical specialists who can comprehensively diagnose, treat and manage your thyroid condition.

Diagnostic Tests and Imaging

Dr. Kevin Brumund performing an ultrasound on a patient.

With access to leading-edge technology in one location, our experts can perform the diagnostic ultrasound, fine needle aspiration (FNA) and on-the-spot evaluation of thyroid nodules in the same visit. Pictured here is surgical oncologist Kevin Brumund, MD.

The vast majority of thyroid nodules are not cancerous; however, determining whether a nodule is cancerous or benign can be difficult.

Count on us to accurately diagnosis your thyroid or parathyroid disorder because our endocrinologists have earned the Endocrine Certification in Neck Ultrasound from the American College of Endocrinology. This certification recognizes our expertise in using ultrasound and ultrasound-guided fine need aspiration (FNA) to evaluate thyroid nodules.

In addition to a physical exam of your throat, thyroid and lymph nodes, you may have one or more of the following to diagnose your condition:

  • Imaging: Your doctor will likely perform a diagnostic ultrasound of your thyroid. If cancer is found, other types of imaging, including CT and PET scans, may be used to determine the size and location of cancer.
  • Biopsy: Our doctors specialize in ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies to sample thyroid cells for cancer.  If the results of your FNA biopsy are not clear, your doctor may recommend a surgical biopsy of your thyroid.  
  • Blood Tests: Your doctor may recommend a variety of blood tests to see if your thyroid is working properly.  You may also have a blood test to look for mutations of the RET gene, a factor that can cause papillary thyroid cancer and medullary thyroid cancer (MTC).
  • Radioiodine or Radionuclide Scans: Your doctor may recommend a radioactive iodine uptake scan to pinpoint the location of cancer within the thyroid. If medullary thyroid cancer is suspected, a different type of scan (known as an octreotide scan) may be recommended to show if a tumor is present and if so, its size. 
  • Molecular and Genetic Testing: Your tumor cells may be molecularly and genetically analyzed by our precision medicine specialists at our Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy to further refine your treatment plan. Through knowledgeable and selective use of molecular and genetic testing, our doctors can help you avoid unnecessary thyroid surgery and receive the treatment that is best for your particular condition.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Your personalized treatment plan may include:

  • Thyroid Cancer Surgery 

    Most people with thyroid cancer have surgery. UC San Diego Health surgeons are experts at minimally invasive techniques that reduce incision size and shorten recovery times. There are two main types of surgery, both outpatient procedures, that your doctor may recommend: 

    • Total thyroidectomy, in which the entire thyroid gland is removed
    • Partial thyroidectomy, in which part of the thyroid gland is removed. This approach is used when the tumor is small and contained.
  • Radiation Therapy for Thyroid Cancer

    Radiation therapy precisely targets cells that are or may become cancerous. The two most common therapeutic radiation approaches for thyroid cancer are:

    • Radioactive iodine to remove remnant thyroid tissue following surgery
    • External beam radiation for rare cases of recurrent or advanced cancer  
  • Chemotherapy for Thyroid Cancer

    During chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs are taken by mouth or injected, and reach cancer cells through the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is sometimes combined with external beam radiation therapy to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer.

  • Targeted Therapy for Thyroid Cancer

    A unique type of chemotherapy, targeted therapy drugs identify the programming of cancer cells that make them different than normal cells. Targeted therapy helps prevent cancer recurrence and also keeps the cancer from spreading. It is often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments.

  • Thyroid Cancer Clinical Trials

    UC San Diego Health physicians are actively researching ways to improve cancer care. By joining a clinical trial, you may receive a new cancer treatment before it is available to the public.  Talk to you doctor about whether a clinical trial could be right for you. 

Patient and Family Support Services 

At UC San Diego Health, your care goes beyond treating disease. It also includes supporting you and your loved ones emotionally during your cancer journey. Most of our support services are free.

About Thyroid Cancer

For more general information about thyroid cancer, including symptoms and risk factors, see Thyroid Cancer in our Health Library