Complications are possible with thyroid cancer. These complications may occur because of the disease or the treatment used.
Recurrence of Thyroid Cancer
With thyroid cancer, there is a possibility that the cancer may return, even if the patient has undergone treatment. The National Health Service noted that between 5 and 20 percent of patients who have had thyroid cancer have a recurrence of cancer to the neck. Even if the patient has her thyroid gland removed, thyroid cancer recurrence is possible, as microscopic malignant cells may have spread before the surgery.
The recurrence may also occur in tissue left behind after the surgery, or in the lymph nodes in the neck. The MayoClinic.com added that recurrence of thyroid cancer may occur decades post-treatment.
To monitor for cancer recurrence, patients will undergo different routine tests at their regular check-ups. Examples include a radioactive iodine scan, ultrasound scan and thyroglobulin testing. With a radioactive iodine scan, the patient ingests a small amount of radioactive iodine, which would identify malignant cancerous thyroid cells during a scan.
An ultrasound scan also looks for abnormalities in the thyroid, but uses high frequency sound waves. With thyroglobulin testing, the blood is tested for thyroglobulin, which should not be present if the patient is cancer-free and their thyroid gland was removed.
Spread of the Cancer
Another possible complication of thyroid cancer is a spread of cancerous cells to other parts of the patient’s body. About 10 to 15 percent of thyroid cancer patients will have a recurrence of cancer in other areas of their body, according to the National Health Service. The MayoClinic.com added that most often, the cancer spreads to the bones or the lungs.
Low Calcium Levels
Located behind the thyroid gland are the parathyroid glands. These glands secrete hormones that regulate calcium. If these glands are removed during surgery, it disrupts calcium levels in the body.
As a result, patients can have low levels of calcium as a post-surgery complication. To correct this, patients will need to take both vitamin D and calcium supplements for life, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Patients who undergo surgery for thyroid cancer face the possible complication of vocal difficulties. The thyroid gland is located below the voice box. Surgery on the thyroid gland may damage the muscles and nerves connected to the voice box, which may lead to vocal problems, such as a hoarse voice.
National Health Service. Thyroid Cancer – Complications. Web. 13 January 2012
MayoClinic.com. Thyroid Cancer: Complications. Web. 13 January 2012
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Parathyroid Glands. Web. 13 January 2012
National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About Thyroid Cancer. Web. 13 January 2012
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Thyroid Cancer. Web. 13 January 2012
Reviewed January 16, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jessica Obert