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designated cancer center

Diagnosis and Treatment of Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid gland is located in the front of the neck, below the larynx (voice box). The small, two-inch gland consists of two lobes, one on each side of the windpipe.

Thyroid cells secrete the hormone calcitonin, and two iodine-containing hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

The thyroid plays an important role in regulating the body's metabolism and calcium balance. The T4 and T3 hormones stimulate every tissue in the body to produce proteins and increase the amount of oxygen used by cells. The harder the cells work, the harder the organs work. The calcitonin hormone works together with the parathyroid hormone to regulate calcium levels in the body.

Levels of hormones secreted by the thyroid are controlled by the pituitary gland's thyroid-stimulating hormone, which in turn is controlled by the hypothalamus.

What is Thyroid Cancer

The majority of thyroid tumors are benign adenomas, meaning they are not cancerous. When tumors are thyroid cancer causes can include excess iodine consumption, genetic syndromes, or past exposure of the neck to radiation.

Treating Thyroid Cancer

Surgery to remove the affected gland is the mainstay of treatment for thyroid cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are sometimes used. Radiation may be delivered in the form of radioactive iodine or external beam radiation therapy.

Stanford Expertise

When you are being treated for cancer you want a physician who is familiar with your particular disease. However, because thyroid cancer is rare it can be difficult to find a doctor who has treated many thyroid cancer patients.

Our specialists at the Stanford Cancer Center not only treat thyroid cancer patients in a dedicated Thyroid Clinic, but also offer the most advanced treatments available today, and are active in research and clinical trials in the area.

Surgical Excellence

Stanford head and neck surgeons have extensive experience operating on patients with thyroid cancer, and contribute to research that defines best-practices in the field.

Imaging Excellence

Cancer Center physicians have pioneered advanced imaging techniques like sonography and intraoperative ultrasonography that are improving outcomes and follow up in thyroid cancer patients.


Physicians in the Division of Nuclear Medicine have enrolled patients in clinical trials that improved the effectiveness of radioiodine treatment following surgery. Stanford researchers are studying the genetic profiles of thyroid tumors in order to better understand which patients are the best candidates for 131I radioablation therapy.

Stanford physicians also participated in the Bay Area Thyroid Cancer Study funded by the National Institutes of Health that looked at the relationship between diet, iodine intake and the development of thyroid cancer.

Genetic Analysis and Counseling

Thyroid cancer, especially medullary thyroid cancer, sometimes runs in families and is caused by genes. If multiple people in your family have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, you may want to be evaluated by genetic counselors associated with the Cancer Center who specialize in genetic mutations or syndromes (e.g., ret mutations, familial adenomatous polyposis syndrome, Cowden’s syndrome) that can cause thyroid cancer.

If one of these syndromes runs in your family, you can be carefully monitored so that if you develop thyroid cancer it can detected early when it is most treatable.

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