Complications of thyroid cancer 

Cancerous cells can return many years after surgery and radioactive iodine treatment has been completed.

It's estimated that 5-20% of people with a history of thyroid cancer will experience a return of cancerous cells in their neck.

An estimated 10-15% of people will see a return of cancerous cells in other parts of their body, such as their bones.

Because of the risk of cancer cells returning, you'll be asked to attend regular check-ups so any cancerous cells that do return can be treated quickly.

Thyroglobulin testing

Thyroglobulin testing is a special type of blood test that's used to monitor some types of thyroid cancer and to check for the return of cancerous cells.

Thyroglobulin is a protein released by a healthy thyroid gland, but it can also be released by cancerous cells.

If you've had your thyroid gland removed, there should be no thyroglobulin present in your blood, unless cancerous cells have returned.

Regularly testing your blood for thyroglobulin can be an effective way of checking whether or not any cancerous cells have returned.

For the first few years after having surgery you'll probably need to have thyroglobulin testing every six months. After this period, you'll need to be tested once a year.

Ultrasound scan

An ultrasound scanner uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of part of the inside of the body. An ultrasound scan can detect changes inside your neck that could indicate the recurrence of cancer.

Radioactive iodine scan

After surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland, you may be asked to attend a radioactive iodine scanning test.

You swallow a small amount of radioactive iodine before undergoing a scan. The radioactive iodine will highlight any cancerous thyroid cells in the body.

Before the scan, you'll need to go on a low-iodine diet and stop taking your thyroid hormone medication.

As only a small dose of radioactive iodine is used, it's not necessary to keep your distance from others. However, if you think you may be pregnant or you're breastfeeding, let the doctors know before your test.

A radioactive iodine scan will usually be carried out six to eight months after surgery.

Page last reviewed: 30/09/2014

Next review due: 30/09/2016