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Thyroid Cancer Program

Cancer care as unique as you

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Thyroid Cancer Doctors

  Care Team

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.

Most thyroid nodules are not cancerous, but it’s important to have them checked out by an expert — so you get the right care

Count on us to accurately diagnose your thyroid or parathyroid disorder because our endocrinologists — doctors who specialize in hormone conditions — 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 Tests

Your doctor will likely use ultrasound to examine 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

During a biopsy, doctors remove a few cells to examine them under a microscope. Our doctors specialize in ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) thyroid biopsies. When your biopsy can be performed with this technique, you’ll benefit from little to no scarring and a quick recovery. If the results of your FNA biopsy are not clear, your doctor may recommend a surgical biopsy.

Blood Tests

Your doctor may use a blood test to see how well your thyroid is working or to look for genetic mutations that can cause some types of thyroid cancer.

Radioiodine or Radionuclide Scans

Radioactive iodine uptake scans pinpoint the location of cancer within the thyroid. If your doctors suspects you may have medullary thyroid cancer, you may have a different type of scan (known as an octreotide scan).

Molecular and Genetic Testing 

Specialists at our Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy may analyze the genetic and molecular make up of your tumor. Your care team uses the results to help you avoid unnecessary surgery and receive the treatment that is best for your particular condition.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment

Receive a treatment plan personalized to your diagnosis and quality of life preferences. You’ll find a full range of treatments at UC San Diego Health.

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. In most cases, you’ll return home the same day as your surgery. Depending on the size and location of your tumor, 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 pills, which destroy thyroid tissue left after surgery
  • External beam radiation for rare cases of recurrent or advanced cancer  

Chemotherapy for Thyroid Cancer

During chemotherapy, you will take anti-cancer drugs by mouth or through an injection. 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 along 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