Thyroid cancer Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) is only used sporadically for rare forms of thyroid cancer in order to cure the disease together with surgery (curative radiotherapy).


Radiation therapy focuses high-energy X-rays on the tumor inside the body to specifically kill it. It can also be used if the thyroid cancer has already spread, has infiltrated the surrounding organs locally or does not store iodine. Radiotherapy can then achieve good local tumor control or prevent or alleviate symptoms caused by the tumor or metastases, e.g. in the brain or bones(palliative radiotherapy).

Radiation therapy is performed as an outpatient treatment, is non-invasive (i.e. does not require anesthesia) and can thus be easily integrated into everyday private and professional life. Depending on the extent of the tumor, radiotherapy can be carried out in one or a few treatment sessions as radiosurgery for small tumor foci, or as fractionated treatment over several weeks for larger tumors. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy or immunotherapy to improve efficacy. Close and personal support is a matter of course for us.

The Department of Radiation Oncology at the USZ uses only the most modern techniques for precise radiation treatment of thyroid cancer with few side effects.

You will be looked after by proven experts in the treatment of thyroid cancer.

For many patients, we are already offering the treatment of tomorrow: in clinical trials, we are continuously working on improving the treatment of thyroid cancer to make it even more effective and tolerable. To the overview of currently open studies.

In the following, we will describe radiotherapy for thyroid cancer:

Undifferentiated, anaplastic thyroid cancer & medullary thyroid cancer

In early-stage anaplastic and medullary thyroid cancer, the definitive treatment of first choice is surgical removal of the tumour followed by radiotherapy combined with radiosensitizing chemotherapy.

To prevent side effects and to protect the surrounding tissue in the best possible way, the radiation is divided into many small “portions”: the therapy is fractionated over approximately 30 treatment sessions every working day over a period of around 6 weeks. Spreading the radiation treatment over several weeks improves the tolerability of the treatment, which is mainly carried out on an outpatient basis and can be easily integrated into everyday private and professional life

Metastases of thyroid cancer, e.g. in the brain or bones

Thyroid cancer is an aggressive type of cancer that often forms metastases during the course of the disease: this is called metastasis. Common sites of metastasis are the lung, adrenal gland, bones, liver or brain. Radiotherapy is a highly effective method with few side effects to prevent or treat symptoms caused by metastases. This is usually done in combination with chemotherapy, immunotherapy or other targeted therapy. The smaller the metastases are and the earlier they are irradiated, the better the results. Today, metastases in the body can be treated in a focused manner in just a few effective radiation sessions.

For tumor foci in the abdominal area, e.g. liver or upper abdomen, we carry out body stereotactic radiotherapy (SBRT) on our MRI hybrid accelerator. State-of-the-art radiation technology is combined with MRI images. The radiation is thus carried out under MRI monitoring of the tumor, so that the highest precision is combined with the best imaging. Our clinic was the first in Switzerland to introduce this technology back in 2019. We are still the only clinic in German-speaking Switzerland to offer the highest level of expertise in this field.

Today, brain metastases are treated at our center in most patients by means of a single high-dose radiation treatment: this is called radiosurgery.

Metastases at other locations in the body can now also be treated in a focused manner in just a few effective radiation sessions. Metastatic thyroid cancer is a clinical and scientific focus of our clinic. We pass on our knowledge in a large number of international courses and congresses. We are active as international experts in guideline commissions. State-of-the-art equipment and experienced medical physicists and MTRAs contribute to treatment of optimum quality and safety. At the same time, we work closely with our colleagues in medical oncology to guarantee “one-stop” treatment. We also consult with our colleagues in palliative medicine at an early stage.

In clinical trials, we are continuously trying to improve the treatment of thyroid cancer in order to make it even more effective and tolerable. To the overview of currently open studies.

  • Radiation Treatment Outcomes of Radiotherapy for Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. Park JW et al. Radiat Oncol J 2018;36:103-113
  • Radiation therapy dose is associated with improved survival for unresected anaplastic thyroid carcinoma: Outcomes from the National Cancer Data Base. Pezzi TA, et al. Cancer 2017;123:1653-61.

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