Follow up after thyroid cancer treatment

After your treatment for thyroid cancer you will have follow up appointments. Your doctor or nurse will explain about any tests you may need.

After your treatment

Your follow-up depends on the type of thyroid cancer you have, and your situation.

This information is about follow-up for follicular and papillary thyroid cancers. We have other information about medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer.

In the first year, you usually have check-ups every few months. Eventually they are reduced to every 6 months or yearly. Some follow-up appointments are with a nurse or by phone.

At your appointments, your doctor examines you and you have blood tests. They will explain if you need any other tests.

Your appointments are a good time to talk to your doctor or specialist nurse about any concerns you have.

You can ask about any symptoms you should look out for and what you can do to help with your recovery. If you notice any new symptoms between appointments, contact your doctor or specialist nurse for advice.

Follow-up tests

Thyroglobulin test

Thyroglobulin is a protein normally made by thyroid cells. Papillary or follicular thyroid cancer cells can also produce it. Levels of thyroglobulin can be detected in the blood.

When your thyroid gland has been removed and you have had radioactive iodine your body should no longer make thyroglobulin. There will be thyroglobulin in your blood if:

  • a small amount of thyroid tissue is left
  • there are still some thyroid cancer cells in your body.

The thyroglobulin blood test is a useful way to find any remaining papillary or follicular cancer cells. You will have this blood test regularly as part of your follow-up care.

Stimulated thyroglobulin test or sensitive thyroglobulin test

This test is done 9 to 12 months after having radioactive iodine treatment. It is used to see if you need more radioactive iodine.

Sometimes you may need to stop taking your thyroid hormone replacement some weeks before the blood test. You will not need to stop taking them if you are given recombinant human thyroid-stimulating hormone (rhTSH) before your blood test.

Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you information about this.

Ultrasound scan of the neck

You may have regular ultrasound scans of your neck.

Radioactive iodine scan

Some people may have a radioactive iodine scan a few months after treatment to check for any thyroid cancer cells in their body. Your doctors can tell you if you need this scan.

This test uses radioactive iodine, which you take as capsules you swallow or as an injection into a vein in the arm. After about 20 minutes, you are asked to lie on a couch and a machine called a gamma camera is placed over your neck. The scan is painless.

To make the scan as accurate as possible, you may be given a drug called recombinant human thyroid-stimulating hormone (rhTSH). Or you may be asked to stop taking your thyroid replacement tablets. You also need to have a low-iodine diet for a few weeks before your scan.

Your doctor or nurse can give you more information about this test if you need it.

Other scans

If your thyroglobulin level is high, or if your scan shows any abnormal areas, you may have further tests. These may include:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our thyroid cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    British Medical Journal. Best Practice Guidelines, Thyroid cancer. 2020.

    European Society Medical Oncology (ESMO): Thyroid cancer, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Diagnosis, Treatment and Follow-up. 2019.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). TA535: Lenvatinib and Sorafenib for treating differentiated thyroid cancer after radioactive iodine. 2018. www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta535 [accessed May 2021].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.