Targeting cancer - Radiation therapy treatment process
Targeting cancer - Radiation challenges and what helped
Targeting cancer - How the radiation immobilisation mask is made
Targeting cancer - Side effects of radiation therapy

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is rarely used as the main treatment in thyroid cancer. Sometimes external beam radiation therapy (X-rays applied from outside the body) may be used after surgery (adjuvant radiation therapy). 
Radiation therapy can be used in the following ways: 
Adjuvant  This is when radiation therapy is given after the surgical removal of the thyroid cancer to kill cancer cells that may not have been taken out during surgery. When used, it usually starts about 4 weeks after surgery to allow recovery from surgery. Radiation therapy treatment usually lasts for about 6 weeks.
Palliative  In cases where a cure is not possible, radiation therapy is used to relieve symptoms of advanced thyroid cancer. Symptoms that may require palliative radiation therapy include pain, bleeding, airway obstruction and swelling. 

Side effects of radiation therapy

The side effects of radiation therapy start around two weeks into treatment and progress through treatment to peak in the last week or just after treatment ends. The side effects start to improve 2–3 weeks after the end of treatment.

Side effects of radiation therapy depend on:

  • the dose of radiation therapy

  • the area being treated

  • whether or not chemotherapy is added to the radiation therapy.


Chemotherapy works by destroying or damaging cancer cells. Chemotherapy is not used in most cases of thyroid cancer. However, it may be required for people with advanced thyroid cancer, who are no longer responding to other treatments.

Before you start treatment, your medical oncologist will choose one or more chemotherapy medication that will be best to treat the type of cancer you have.