by Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Thyroid cancer starts in cells in a gland in the neck. Cancer cells grow out of control and form a tumor. It can also invade and damage nearby tissue.
There are several types of thyroid cancer:
Cancer occurs when cells grow and develop without control or order. It is not clear exactly what causes these cells to develop. A combination of genetics and environment probably play a role.
Thyroid cancer is more common in women. Though it can happen at any age it is more common in people aged 30 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chances of thyroid cancer include:
Thyroid cancer may cause:
A bump in thyroid may be felt during an exam. It may also be seen during a test for something else. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. This may include a careful exam of your neck. To look for changes in the thyroid the doctor may order:
A fine needle aspiration may be done. It will remove a small sample of tissue for biopsy. The tissue will show if cancer cells are there.
The care team will use all test results to determine the type and stage of cancer. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, thyroid cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Cancer that has stayed on one area is called Stage 1. The higher the stage the further the cancer has spread. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is called stage 4.
Early detection and treatment lead to better outcomes. Your doctor may recommend screening tests if you are at high risk for thyroid cancer. For example:
The goal of treatment is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Most thyroid cancers can be cured. Those that can't be cured may need to be managed to delay or prevent the spread of cancer. Specific treatment step depend on the stage and type of cancer. Options may include:
Chemotherapy is not often used. However, it may be used to treat cancer that has spread in the body.
Thyroid treatment and removal will affect the amount of hormones. Medicine may be needed to take place of missing or lower hormones.
Exposure to radiation is a major risk factor for thyroid cancer. The thyroid should be checked often if there has been radiation to head, neck, or chest.
American Cancer Society
Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association
Canadian Cancer Society
Thyroid Foundation of Canada
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Last reviewed August 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 9/9/2020
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