Thyroid cancer is cancer of the thyroid gland. This gland makes thyroid hormone, and it is found in the front of the neck. Thyroid gland tumors often appear as bumps in the neck, called nodules, usually in the thyroid gland. In most cases, thyroid nodules are not cancerous.
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There are several types of thyroid cancer:
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues including the lymph nodes. Cancer that has invaded the lymph nodes can then spread to other parts of the body.
It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Thyroid cancer is more common in women, and in people aged 30 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chances of thyroid cancer:
Thyroid cancer may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. This may include a careful examination of your neck to look for lumps or abnormalities.
Tests may include:
The physical exam, combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the type and stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, thyroid cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. Options may include:
Because the exact cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, 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:
Since exposure to radiation is a major risk factor for thyroid cancer, you should:
American Cancer Society
Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association
Canadian Cancer Society
Thyroid Foundation of Canada
General information about thyroid cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/thyroid/patient/thyroid-treatment-pdq#link/_1. Updated August 18, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2017.
Papillary thyroid cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115275/Papillary-thyroid-cancer. Updated July 24, 2017. Accessed October 6, 2017.
Thyroid cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroid-cancer.html. Accessed October 6, 2017.
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Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 10/1/2014