Thyroid cancer is a cancer that starts in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located inside the front of your lower neck.
Thyroid cancer can occur in people of any age.
Radiation increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer. Exposure may occur from:
Other risk factors are a family history of thyroid cancer and chronic goiter (enlarged thyroid).
There are several types of thyroid cancer:
Symptoms vary depending on the type of thyroid cancer, but may include:
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may reveal a lump in the thyroid, or swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
The following tests may be done:
Treatment depends on the type of thyroid cancer. Treatment of most thyroid cancer types is effective if diagnosed early.
Surgery is most often done. All or part of the thyroid gland may be removed. If your provider suspects that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the neck, these will also be removed. If some of your thyroid gland remains, you will need follow-up ultrasound and possibly other studies to detect any regrowth of thyroid cancer.
Radiation therapy may be done with or without surgery. It may be performed by:
After treatment for thyroid cancer, you must take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of your life. The dosage is usually slightly higher than what your body needs. This helps keep the cancer from coming back. The pills also replace the thyroid hormone your body needs to function normally.
If the cancer does not respond to surgery or radiation, and has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be used. These are only effective for a small number of people.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Complications of thyroid cancer may include:
Call your provider if you notice a lump in your neck.
There is no known prevention. Awareness of risk (such as previous radiation therapy to the neck) can allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Sometimes, people with family histories and genetic mutations related to thyroid cancer will have their thyroid gland removed to prevent cancer.
Reviewed By: Robert Hurd, MD, Professor of Endocrinology and Health Care Ethics, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 08/03/2020.