Endocrinologist Mabel Ryder, M.D., answers the most frequently asked questions about thyroid cancer.

Hi. I'm Dr. Mabel Ryder, an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic, and I'm here to answer some of the important questions you may have about thyroid cancer.

The next step after thyroid cancer is diagnosed is to obtain a comprehensive, high-resolution ultrasound. This is important because papillary thyroid cancer and other types of thyroid cancer commonly spread to lymph nodes in the neck. If these are positive for thyroid cancer, fortunately, the surgeon will do a comprehensive surgery to remove both the thyroid and the lymph nodes.

Fortunately, the prognosis for most patients with thyroid cancer is excellent. This means that the thyroid cancer is not life-threatening and very treatable. In a small group of patients, the disease may be advanced. With greater science, with data from the laboratory and clinical trials, and with technology, we're able to improve the treatments for our patients. And these patients have improved outcomes and better prognosis.

Fortunately, for small thyroid cancers, it does not impact the function of the gland. We measure the function of the gland by measuring hormones called TSH and T4. And if these are normal, it means the thyroid function has been preserved.

If you've been diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, you may be able to save part of your thyroid. We know that most papillary thyroid cancers - under 3 to 4 centimeters - that are confined to the thyroid are low risk. This means that patients can undergo lobectomy to remove half the gland instead of the entire gland. The benefit of this is that you might be able to preserve your own thyroid function after surgery.

Many patients are concerned about their quality of life and function after removing the thyroid gland. Fortunately, we have a hormone called levothyroxine or Synthroid. This hormone is bioidentical to the hormone your thyroid produced. It's safe. It's effective. And there's no side effects when you're on the right dose.

The best way to partner with your team is to be open with your team about your questions, your fears and anxieties about your disease, and to be honest about your goals of care. Often writing your questions down and listing your priorities can be very helpful with you and your team determining what's the best next step for you. Never hesitate to ask your medical team any questions or concerns you have. Being informed makes all the difference. Thanks for your time and we wish you well.

June 30, 2022