If you do develop thyroid cancer, your treatment options will depend on the size and stage of your tumor. “Some tumors that are less than 1 centimeter—micro-papillary thyroid cancer—can actually be left alone,” says Likhterov. Since these are so slow-growing, your doctor might postpone treatment and simply send you for an ultrasound every six months to make sure nothing has changed. (Likhterov likens it to active surveillance for prostate cancer.)
Larger or more aggressive tumors will need to be removed right away, but you won’t necessarily need to have your entire thyroid taken out. That used to be the norm, says Likhterov, but if you take out the whole thyroid you’ll need to be on thyroid hormones for the rest of your life; there’s also a risk of injuring the nearby parathyroid gland, which controls calcium balance in the body. Nowadays many patients only have half of the thyroid removed (the part with the tumor), which allows you to dodge these side effects. Depending on the specifics of your case, you might also need radiation, chemo, or a “targeted” medication.