Thyroid ablation is a medical procedure which is designed to remove or deactivate thyroid tissue in the body. This technique is used to treat thyroid cancer by removing the cancerous cells so that they cannot continue to grow and spread. Depending on how far the cancer has progressed, ablation therapy can sometimes be extremely successful, and the prognosis may be quite good, although the patient will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for life to make up for the loss of the thyroid gland. Some time off may be required in the days following thyroid ablation, as the patient may feel a bit under the weather.
In medical terms, ablation just means “removal.” There are two types of thyroid ablation: chemical and surgical. Chemical ablation, also known as radioactive ablation, involves the ingestion of radioactive iodine, while surgical ablation requires a surgery to remove the thyroid gland. Sometimes both techniques are used to ensure that all of the cancerous tissue has been removed.
For a surgical ablation, the patient is put under general anesthesia and the thyroid is removed. Recovery after a thyroidectomy is usually fairly rapid, with some patients going home on the same day as the surgery. Patients are usually monitored for several hours to several days after the surgery to ensure that they have come through the surgery well. After the surgery, medications need to be taken to compensate for the missing thyroid, and typically follow up tests to determine whether or not cancerous tissue remains will be required.
Radioactive thyroid ablation requires swallowing radioactive iodine pills. Thyroid tissue is the only tissue in the body which can absorb iodine, so the radioactive iodine will kill off cancer cells in the thyroid and in other areas of the body, if the cancer has migrated, without harming other tissues. Depending on the dosage, the patient may be hospitalized, as he or she will become radioactive, and generally some precautions must be used to avoid exposing other people to radiation in the days following radioactive ablation.
Doctors typically discuss this cancer treatment with their patients, along with the risks and potential for recurrence. Each patient and cancer is slightly different, so it is sometimes hard to predict the success of thyroid ablation. In addition to maintenance with hormone pills, patients may be required to come in for periodic testing to ensure that the cancer has not recurred. Regular testing is important, as catching recurrences early is critical in cancer treatment.