Supportive care for thyroid cancer

Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of thyroid cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from thyroid cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person. Recovery depends on the stage of the cancer, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects. A person who has been treated for thyroid cancer may have concerns about the following.


Hypothyroidism means there is not enough thyroid hormone in the blood to keep the body working properly. It develops when all or part of the thyroid is removed or thyroid tissue is destroyed by radioactive iodine therapy.

Hypothyroidism can cause:

  • fatigue
  • dry skin
  • weight gain
  • feeling cold

Hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone therapy using levothyroxine (Synthroid, Eltroxin). This drug replaces thyroxine, which is the hormone normally made by the thyroid. You will need to take it for the rest of your life. It may take some time to find the right dose for you so you don’t have symptoms of hypothyroidism. Doctors will adjust the dose of levothyroxine based on blood test results.

Dry mouth

Radioactive iodine therapy can make the salivary glands inflamed, which may lower the amount of saliva, or spit, they make. This can lead to dry mouth and sometimes changes in taste. It may take several weeks after treatment for dry mouth to get better. Some people may have long-term problems with dry mouth.

To help keep your mouth moist, drink water and other fluids often throughout the day. Some people use an artificial saliva product to help moisten the mouth. Ask your healthcare team to recommend a product.

Find out more about dry mouth and taste changes.

Voice changes

Voice changes may happen after surgery for thyroid cancer. The larynx, or voice box, is close to the thyroid. The larynx and nerves in the throat may be damaged during surgery to remove the thyroid. This can cause the voice to sound different. Your voice may be hoarse and sound breathy. You may have problems making high-pitched sounds. A hoarse voice usually gets better in a few weeks after surgery. Some people find that it takes longer for their singing voice to get better. In rare cases, there can be permanent changes to the voice.

If the voice changes seem to be a long-term problem, speech therapy can help improve the quality of your voice.

Find out more about speech therapy.


Hypocalcemia means there is not enough calcium in the blood. It can happen when the parathyroid glands are removed or damaged during surgery.

The parathyroid glands make a hormone called parathyroid hormone (PTH). It helps control the level of calcium in the blood. When blood calcium levels are low, the parathyroid gland releases PTH. If the parathyroid glands have been removed or damaged, they will not be able to make PTH (called hypoparathyroidism).

Hypocalcemia can cause:

  • muscle cramps in the back and legs
  • dry skin and brittle nails
  • tingling and numbness in the lips, tongue, fingers and feet
  • confusion, memory loss and depression
  • abnormal heartbeat

Hypocalcemia is usually treated with calcium pills (called supplements). Sometimes vitamin D pills are given as well. How long calcium and vitamin D supplements are taken depends on when or if the parathyroid glands recover and function normally. Some people need to take these supplements for the rest of their life so they don’t have symptoms of hypocalcemia.

Questions to ask about supportive care

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about supportive care.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Thyroid Cancer. 2014:
  • American Thyroid Association. Hypothyroidism. 2014:
  • Davidson BJ, Newkirk KA, Burman KD . Cancer of the thyroid and the parathyroid: general principles and management. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 28A:779-824.
  • Jonklaas J, Bianco AC, Bauer AJ, et al . Guidelines for the treatment of hypothyroidism: prepared by the American Thyroid Association Task Force on Thyroid Hormone Replacement . Thyroid . 2014 .
  • Lewis JL III . Hypocalcemia. Beers MH, Berkow R (eds). Merck Manual Professional Edition. 2013:

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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