Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy because the drugs travel through the body in the bloodstream. Chemotherapy for thyroid cancer is sometimes given in combination with radiation treatments to increase its effectiveness.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles. A person will be treated for a period of time, and will then have time to recover from the side effects. This cycle will continue throughout the treatment. Most patients have chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Depending on which drugs are given and the person's general health, however, the patient may need to stay in the hospital during treatment.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy for thyroid cancer has not been shown to be very effective, although it is sometimes used to treat anaplastic thyroid cancer or advanced thyroid cancers. Currently, the most effective drug, doxorubicin, is still much less effective than surgery and RAI (radioactive iodine therapy).
Targeted therapies are medications that are designed to specifically turn off cellular mechanisms that cancer cells use to grow and to spread. A number of treatments, particularly with a group of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, have shown benefit in clinical trials of differentiated and medullary thyroid cancers, though not in anaplastic thyroid cancer. These drugs are expected to rapidly replace efforts to use chemotherapy in widespread thyroid cancers unresponsive to radioactive iodine.
Patients are often overwhelmed with the information they receive from their doctors. It is important that they take the time to gather as much information as possible.