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Possible Complications with Thyroid Cancer

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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.

Vocal Difficulties

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

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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