Thyroid cancer research

Researchers around the world are looking at better ways to treat thyroid cancer. Go to Cancer Research UK's clinical trial database if you are looking for a trial for thyroid cancer in the UK.

Talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in. 

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We include this ongoing research to give examples of thyroid cancer research. 

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Understanding a rare type of thyroid cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer. Because it is rare, it is difficult to research. Researchers are collecting samples of tissue from people with anaplastic thyroid cancer. They are collecting these from across the UK.

These samples will help researchers to learn more about anaplastic thyroid cancer. A greater understanding could lead to better treatments in the future.

Research into radioactive iodine treatment

Radioactive iodine is a type of internal radiotherapy. It uses a radioactive form of iodine called iodine 131 (I-131). It is a treatment for differentiated thyroid cancer.

Researchers have been looking at radioactive iodine for low risk thyroid cancer. Low risk means that it is unlikely that your cancer will come back (recur). You might not need any further treatments such as radioactive iodine. But doctors want to make sure that this is the case. 

Researchers are also looking at the amount of radioactive iodine a person has. They are comparing the dose a person receives with the amount they actually absorb. The study team think that the success of treatment might depend on how much the body absorbs.

These results could improve treatment in the future. They could help to make sure that people have the most effective dose of radioactive iodine.

Research into surgery

Types of surgery

Researchers are comparing two types of surgery for thyroid cancer. These are surgery to remove the whole thyroid and surgery to remove only the side (lobe) that the cancer is in. Removing the whole thyroid is called a total thyroidectomy. Removing one side is called a hemithyroidectomy.

They want to know whether a hemithyroidectomy is as good as a total thyroidectomy.

Risks of surgery

During thyroid surgery, the surgeon sometimes removes or damages the parathyroid glands. Researchers have developed a technique called near-infrared fluorescence imaging (NIRF). 

This technique helps the surgeons identify the parathyroid glands. The researchers want to know if NIRF can minimise any damage to the parathyroid glands.

Research into targeted drugs

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to grow and survive.

Doctors sometimes use targeted drugs to treat people with thyroid cancer. Doctors are looking at new targeted drugs, how well they work, and who they can help. Trials are looking at:   

  • selpercatinib (Retevmo)
  • selumetinib (Koselugo)

Some thyroid cancer stops responding to radioactive iodine. Researchers want to know if selumetinib can help people in this situation. They want to know if this drug can make thyroid cancer cells more likely to take up radioactive iodine.

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