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  • Carol Michaels

Exercise and Thyroid Cancer

thyroid cancer

A healthy lifestyle comprised of good nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and not smoking has a positive effect on health. A stronger cancer patient should be able to have a better quality of life while dealing with the cancer. More research is needed to identify the specific effects of exercise on thyroid cancer.

There are a few studies that lead me to believe that exercise should be part of the treatment plan for thyroid cancer.

In the study, Recreational Physical Activity and Risk of Papillary Thyroid Cancer by Rossing et al, the risk of thyroid cancer was reduced among women who reported that they engaged in regular recreational exercise during the two years prior to a diagnosis compared with women who did not report exercising during that time. These results provide some initial support for the hypothesis that physical activity may reduce risk of thyroid cancer

In Recreational physical activity and risk of papillary thyroid cancer among women in the California Teachers Study, the authors, Stephanie Cash et al, determined that long-term physical activity might reduce papillary thyroid cancer risk among normal weight and underweight women.

Lastly, in March 2016, Annual Average Changes in Adult Obesity as a Risk Factor for Papillary Thyroid Cancer: A Large-Scale Case-Control Study, by Hwang et al, evaluated the association between weight change in middle-aged adults and papillary thyroid cancer in 1551 papillary thyroid cancer patients who underwent thyroidectomy. Weight gain in middle-aged adults had significant effects on thyroid cancer. The results indicated that the thyroid cancer risk increases with rapidly increased weight.

In addition, post-menopausal women due to the typical postmenopausal weight gain had an increase in thyroid cancer. This is additional support of a strong correlation between weight gain and cancer. While correlation does not mean causation, it does support my premise that exploring weight control, as a means of preventing thyroid cancer should be studied.

These studies suggest that exercise is helpful for preventing weight gain, which may increase the risk of thyroid cancer. Those with thyroid issues should have their medication checked regularly to make sure the dose is accurate. If the medication is off, it can slow the metabolism causing weight gain.

Exercise should be included in the treatment plan for thyroid cancer survivors in order to decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Maintaining healthy bones requires that thyroid levels are in the correct range. The thyroid hormone affects the rate of bone replacement. Too much thyroid hormone in your body speeds the rate at which bone is lost. If this happens too fast the osteoblasts may not be able to replace the bone loss quickly enough. If the thyroid hormone level in your body stays too high or low for a long period there is a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Thyroid cancer survivors may be at higher risk for osteoporosis especially if the parathyroid is affected. Therefore, strength training and weight bearing exercise should be performed on order to decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

An exercise routine should also include gentle stretches. Neck and shoulder stiffness may be a side effect of thyroid surgery. Therefore, gentle neck and shoulder exercises should be performed following the operation in order to help prevent any permanent stiffness. Thyroid cancer patients should work with a cancer exercise specialist or therapist that works with cancer patients in order to learn which exercises are right for their particular situation.

Cardiac issues may arise due to the thyroid replacement hormone. It is a good idea for those on thyroid replacement hormone to monitor their heart rate because the thyroid replacement hormone can make their heart rate speed up really fast during high intensity exercise. I recommend moderate intensity exercise and using a heart rate monitor if needed.

Contact me at caroljmichaels@gmail or go to to find out about cancer exercise programs in New Jersey or for cancer continuing education courses.


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PeterVenner, Associations between Exercise and Quality of Life in Bladder Cancer Survivors: A Population-Based Study, Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers Prevention May 2007, 10.1158/1055-9965

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