Thyroid Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu.

Doctors are working to learn more about thyroid cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

New treatments

Clinical trials for thyroid cancer include testing new medications, including drugs known as targeted therapy. As explained in Treatment Options, targeted therapy is a treatment that targets specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. In addition, researchers are looking at new combinations of chemotherapy and other treatments.

  • Radiolabeled antibodies are being tested for MTC. They are antibodies made in a laboratory that are attached to a radioactive substance.

  • Researchers continue to study the drugs vandetanib and cabozantinib (see Treatment Options) for MTC, including for use with children who have advanced hereditary MTC.

  • For anaplastic thyroid cancer, clinical trials are studying combination chemotherapy. One study is comparing the results of either carboplatin (Paraplatin) and paclitaxel (Taxol) alone or with an experimental drug, combretastatin A4 phosphate (CA4P, fosbretabulin, Zybrestat).

  • For later-stage differentiated thyroid cancer that does not respond to surgery or to I-131 treatment or stops responding, clinical trials are studying several targeted therapies called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors, which may block the creation of new blood vessels that are necessary for tumor growth. VEGF inhibitors being studied include axitinib (Inlyta), nintedanib (Ofev, Vargatef), and pazopanib (Votrient).

    Also, in patients whose tumors showed a genetic mutation known as BRAF V600E, the tumors responded better to the study drug. Dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and trametinib (Mekinist) are also being studied for those tumors with the BRAF genetic mutation.

  • New approaches are being tested for thyroid cancer that doesn’t respond to I-131. One drug being studied is called selumetinib (AZD6244), which is being tested to see if it helps boost I-131 absorption in treating advanced thyroid cancer. Other drugs being looked at include the combination of temsirolimus (Torisel) and sorafenib (Nexavar).

  • For follicular and anaplastic thyroid cancers, valproic acid is being researched as a possible treatment.

  • Investigations are underway to fine-tune diagnosis and predict treatment outcomes based on the molecular biology of the tumor. Molecular biology is the study of the structure and function of cells at the molecular level.

  • Researchers continue to investigate the best use of I-131, including different dosages, in treating thyroid cancer. In 1 study, researchers are looking at whether taking a drug called sunitinib (Sutent) after I-131 is helpful to those with advanced disease.

  • The genetic testing and the refinement of RET oncogenes (see Risk Factors) is an ongoing area of active research. Further knowledge in this area will improve how treatment options are chosen and give more precise prognosis.

Data collection

There is an effort to create a volunteer registry of people with a history of thyroid cancer. This can help doctors research this disease in the future. Participants are asked to provide information, tissue samples, or blood and urine samples.

Palliative care

Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current thyroid cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding thyroid cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.