Chemotherapy (chemo) drugs are passed through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells. It is generally not used to treat thyroid cancer. There is some success using chemo for anaplastic thyroid cancer after surgery. It is used in combination with radiation therapy if cancer has not spread beyond the thyroid gland.

Chemotherapy may also be used to relieve symptoms or prolong life when other treatments fail.

Chemotherapy Drugs and Delivery

There are many different typed of chemo drugs. The choice and combination will be based on your specific cancer. Chemotherapy drugs for thyroid cancer may include:

  • Doxorubicin
  • Paclitaxel
  • Docetaxel
  • Cisplatin
  • Carboplatin

Chemo for thyroid cancer is usually given through an IV. Some forms can be given by mouth. It is given in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemo are needed and what mix of drugs will work best

Side Effects and Management

The drugs are targeted to cancer cells but they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. Your care team will work to find the best drug combination to have the most impact on the cancer cells and least effects on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:

  • Numbness, pain, or burning sensation in the the hands and feet—peripheral neuropathy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatigue due to anemia
  • Low blood cell counts (white cells or platelets) that can lead to infection or bleeding
  • Confusion, forgetfulness
  • Kidney, liver, and/or heart damage

A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.

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