Treatment for Hurthle cell cancer usually requires surgery to remove the thyroid. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be options.
Total or near-total removal of the thyroid (thyroidectomy) is the most common treatment for Hurthle cell cancer.
During thyroidectomy, the surgeon removes all or nearly all of the thyroid gland and leaves tiny edges of thyroid tissue near small adjacent glands (parathyroid glands) to lessen the chance of injuring them. The parathyroid glands regulate your body's calcium level.
Surrounding lymph nodes may be removed if there's suspicion that the cancer has spread to them.
Risks associated with thyroidectomy include:
- Injury to the nerve that controls the voice box (recurrent laryngeal nerve), which could cause temporary or permanent hoarseness or a loss of your voice
- Damage to the parathyroid glands
- Excessive bleeding
After surgery, your doctor will prescribe the hormone levothyroxine (Synthroid, Unithroid, others) to replace the hormone produced by your thyroid. You'll need to take this hormone for the rest of your life.
Radioactive iodine therapy
Radioactive iodine therapy involves swallowing a capsule that contains a radioactive liquid.
Radioactive iodine therapy may be recommended after surgery because it can help destroy any remaining thyroid tissue, which can contain traces of cancer. Radioactive iodine therapy may also be used if Hurthle cell cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Temporary side effects of radioiodine therapy can include:
- Dry mouth
- Decrease in taste sensations
- Neck tenderness
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you're positioned on a table and a machine moves around you, delivering the radiation to specific points on your body.
Radiation therapy may be an option if cancer cells remain after surgery and radioactive iodine treatment or if Hurthle cell cancer spreads.
Side effects may include:
- Sore throat
- Sunburn-like skin rash
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug treatments use medications that attack specific abnormalities within cancer cells. Targeted therapy may be an option if your Hurthle cell cancer returns after other treatments or if it spreads to distant parts of your body.
Side effects depend on the particular drug, but may include:
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
Targeted drug therapy is an active area of cancer research. Doctors are studying many new targeted therapy drugs for use in people with thyroid cancer.