Radiation therapy may provide effective treatment for the type of thyroid cancer you have. If so, your doctor will speak with you about the best options. The types of radiation therapy we use for thyroid cancer treatment at Stanford include:
Radioactive Iodine: This is the most common way to deliver radiation therapy. You swallow radioactive iodine. Because thyroid cells take up iodine, the radioactive iodine travels to any thyroid tissue remaining in the body and kills the cancer cells.
External beam radiation: We can also deliver radiation therapy through a machine outside of the body. We use this for more aggressive cases of thyroid cancer. External beam radiation therapy does not cause pain, so you won’t feel anything during your treatments. It does not make you radioactive. You can safely be around other people, including children. External beam radiation uses a machine called a linear accelerator (LINAC) to deliver radiation to the area of the thyroid where the cancer cells are found. Some of the types of external radiation we use include:
- 3D (3-dimensional) conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)
With this method, 3D images help the doctor better target the tumor. The images are created using a special machine — a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The radiation beams can be aimed from many different angles to match the exact shape of the cancer.
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
This method is similar to the first method, but the doctor can adjust how much radiation you get from each beam. In certain situations, this allows for better avoidance of nearby normal cells, and thus less potential side effects.
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) or stereotactic ablative radiation therapy (SABR)
This method works like the first two methods, and the total amount of radiation you get is similar. But with this method, the radiation is given in fewer but stronger doses.
Receiving radiation treatments
Radiation therapy does not cause pain, so you won’t feel anything during your treatments. Radiation does not make you radioactive, and you can safely be around other people, including children.
The exact number and timing of your radiation treatments depends on the type of thyroid cancer you have and the type of radiation therapy you need:
- Typically, you will be treated once a day, Monday through Friday, over a few weeks.
- Most treatment sessions take 15 to 30 minutes, but some may take up to 1 hour.
- We offer treatment sessions between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at our Cancer Centers in Palo Alto and South Bay.
Radiation therapy side effects
Everyone has a different response to radiation therapy. It may cause short-term side effects during treatment or long-term side effects after treatment ends.
The side effects of treatment depend on the type of radiation you receive, the dose, and your overall health. Common side effects that you may experience after radiation treatment include:
- Dry mouth
- Skin color changes, like a tan or sunburn
- Skin irritation
No matter what you experience, your care team can help ease the side effects of treatment. At least once a week, your radiation oncology team will meet with you to discuss your progress and any side effects that you may have.