Discharge Instructions After Surgery for Cancer of the Thyroid

You have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control your metabolism. The most common treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery to remove the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy). Because your thyroid gland is gone, you will have to take thyroid medicine for the rest of your life. This sheet helps you remember how to care for yourself after surgery.

Home care

Suggestions for care at home after surgery: 

  • Don’t get your incision site wet for a few days after your surgery. When you wash, use soap and water to clean the incision. Don't scrub.

  • Don't do strenuous physical activity for 3 to 5 weeks after surgery.

  • Ask your healthcare provider when you can expect to return to work.

  • Keep a card in your wallet that lists the following:

    • Your name and contact information

    • Your healthcare provider’s name and contact information

    • The name of your disease

    • The brand name and dose of your thyroid medicine


Take your thyroid hormone medicine exactly as directed. Follow these tips:

  • Keep your pills in a container that is labeled with the days of the week. This will help you remember if you’ve taken your medicine each day.

  • Take your medicine with a liquid. It can be anything but soy milk, which interferes with your ability to absorb thyroid hormone. To work, the pill must make it to your stomach and not dissolve in your throat.

  • Try to take your thyroid medicine at about the same time every day and on an empty stomach, at least 30 to 60 minutes before other foods or medicines. This will help you absorb the medicine and help regulate the amount of thyroid hormone in your system.

  • After taking your thyroid medicine:

    • Wait 4 hours before eating or drinking anything that contains soy.

    • Wait 4 hours before taking iron supplements, antacids that contain either calcium or aluminum hydroxide, or calcium supplements.

    • Wait 4 hours before taking medicines that lower your cholesterol.

Treatment and healthcare provider visits

Suggestions for treatment and healthcare provider visits after surgery:

  • Never stop thyroid medicine on your own.

  • During your routine visits, tell your healthcare provider about any signs of too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). These include:

    • Restlessness, nervousness

    • Rapid weight loss

    • Sweating

    • Heart palpitations, more rapid heartbeat, or chest pain

    • Trouble sleeping

    • Shortness of breath

    • More frequent bowel movements

    • Stopping of menstrual period

    • Hair loss

  • During your routine visits, tell your healthcare provider about any signs of too much thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism). These include:

    • Fatigue or sluggishness

    • Puffy hands, face, or feet

    • Hoarseness

    • Muscle pain

    • Slow pulse (less than 60 beats per minute)

    • Weakness

    • Weight gain

    • Feeling cold often

    • Constipation


It is important to go to follow-up appointments after surgery:

  • Make a follow-up appointment as directed.

  • Make and keep appointments to see your healthcare provider and get blood tests. You will need to be monitored for the rest of your life. Let your healthcare provider know if you have been prescribed any new medicine. This is because these can change how well your thyroid hormone dose works.

  • Know what problems you should watch for after thyroid surgery. Know how to get help any time, including after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Chills

  • Swelling or bleeding at the incision site

  • Choking or trouble breathing

  • Trouble eating or swallowing

  • Pain that's getting worse 

  • Sore throat that lasts longer than 3 weeks

  • Tingling or cramps in the hands, feet, or lips

  • Lump in the neck