What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer happens when cells in your thyroid gland grow abnormally and out of control. The cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body.

The thyroid gland is located in your neck. It makes hormones that control the way your body uses energy and that help your body work normally.

Treatment depends on the specific type of thyroid cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

What happens when you have thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow in the thyroid gland. You may notice a lump in your neck and then go to your doctor. Or your doctor may notice a lump during a routine physical exam or on an imaging test that you are having for another health problem.

Almost all thyroid cancers are treated with surgery. After surgery, you may need to take thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of your life. Some people may also need to have radioactive iodine therapy. In cases where surgery isn't possible or radioactive iodine therapy doesn't work, other treatments are available.

In some cases, thyroid cancer can return after treatment. It can show up in the neck area or in another part of the body, such as the lungs. Follow-up care and tests can help catch thyroid cancer early if it returns.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Many people don't have any symptoms when they are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This cancer is often found when an imaging test, like a CT scan, is done for another reason.

When thyroid cancer grows, it may cause these symptoms:

  • You may get a lump or swelling in your neck. This is the most common symptom.
  • You may have pain in your neck and sometimes in your ears.
  • You may have trouble swallowing.
  • You may have trouble breathing or have constant wheezing.
  • Your voice may be hoarse.
  • You may have a frequent cough that is not related to a cold.

What are the types of thyroid cancer?

There are different types of thyroid cancer. They are based on what the cells look like under a microscope. Your treatment will depend on which type of thyroid cancer you have.

These include:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer. This is the most common type of thyroid cancer. It's often only found in one lobe of the thyroid.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer. It's found more often in countries where people don't get enough iodine from food.
  • Hürthle cell cancer. This is a much less common type. It tends to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer. This isn't very common. One type occurs mostly in adults. The other type is inherited and often develops during early childhood.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer. This is very rare. It's a very aggressive cancer that grows rapidly and is almost always fatal.

Other cancers that can start in the thyroid include lymphoma and sarcoma.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

Treatment for thyroid cancer often includes surgery, radioactive iodine, and thyroid hormone therapy. It may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. Very low-risk thyroid cancer may not need treatment right away. With regular checkups and tests, your doctor can closely watch the cancer for any signs of growth (active surveillance).

Can you prevent thyroid cancer?

Most thyroid cancer cannot be prevented.

One rare type of thyroid cancer, called medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), runs in families. A genetic test can tell you if you have a greater chance of getting MTC. If this test shows that you have an increased risk, you can have your thyroid gland removed to reduce your risk for thyroid cancer later in life.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

To diagnose thyroid cancer, your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. You may have tests, including:

  • A blood test to check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level.
  • A thyroid ultrasound.
  • A thyroid scan.
  • A thyroid uptake scan.

If tests show that cancer is possible, you may have:

  • A fine needle biopsy. This removes a small sample of tissue to check for cancer cells.
  • Molecular tests. These tests look at cells from your biopsy.
  • Surgery. Sometimes the results of a biopsy or other tests aren't enough, and surgery is needed.

How can you care for yourself when you have thyroid cancer?

Focus on taking care of yourself. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking medicines as prescribed may help you feel better. Get some physical activity each day if you can, and make time for things you enjoy. Consider joining a support group or talking with a counselor.

What increases your risk of thyroid cancer?

A risk factor for thyroid cancer is something that increases your chance of getting this cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors can make it more likely that you will get thyroid cancer. But it doesn't mean that you will definitely get it. And many people who get thyroid cancer don't have any of these risk factors.

Risk factors include:

  • Being female.
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation, such as after a nuclear power accident.
  • A history of radiation treatments to the head, neck, or chest during childhood.
  • A personal or family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.
  • Inheriting gene changes that can cause thyroid cancer or other inherited conditions, like familial polyposis.

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in your thyroid gland. These cells often form small tumors called nodules. But most thyroid nodules aren't cancer and don't cause harm.

There are several different types of thyroid cancer. The treatment for thyroid cancer is often successful with the right treatment plan.

What causes thyroid cancer?

Experts don't know what causes thyroid cancer. Like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. These DNA changes may include changes that are inherited as well as those that happen as you get older.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.