Thyroid Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment


Thyroid cancer occurs when the cells of the thyroid gland grow abnormally. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland which is located in the lower front of the neck. The thyroid gland can make thyroid hormones which can help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as usual. If cancer is spread from other parts of the body, it will not be classified as thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable cancers if it is found and treated early. It is an uncommon cancer compared with other cancers, but it usually has a good outlook. Thyroid cancer is most common in people who at the age of 35–65. Women and Asian people have a higher risk.


The type of thyroid cancer can determine its treatment. There are five types of thyroid cancer, including papillary thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer, and thyroid lymphoma.

Papillary thyroid cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. Eight in ten thyroid cancers are papillary thyroid cancer. It can appear at any age, but it usually affects people who at the age of 30–50. Papillary thyroid cancer usually grows slowly and develop in only one lobe of the thyroid gland. Even if it has spread to the lymph nodes, it also has a good outlook.

Follicular thyroid cancer

Follicular thyroid cancer is the second common type of thyroid cancer. One in ten thyroid cancer is follicular thyroid cancer, which usually affects people over 50 years old. Follicular thyroid cancer usually won’t spread to lymph nodes, but to other parts of the body such as the lungs or bones.

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC)

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) accounts for about 4% of thyroid cancers. MTC develops from the C cells of the thyroid gland. It may spread to lymph nodes, the lungs, or liver even before a thyroid nodule is discovered.

MTC is rarer than other types of thyroid cancers, it contains 2 types of MTC, including:

  • Sporadic MTC (not inherited): it is most commonly found in old people and often affects only one thyroid lobe.
  • Familial MTC (inherited): it is ften found in childhood or early adulthood and can spread early.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer, which accounts for about 2% of all thyroid cancers. It usually grows rapidly and most commonly seen in people over 60 years old. Anaplastic thyroid cancer can be the most severe type and can spread quickly to other parts of the body.

Thyroid lymphoma

Thyroid lymphoma is a rare type of thyroid cancer which starts from the immune system cells in the thyroid. It can grow quickly and usually occur in old people.

Causes & Risk Factors

Thyroid cancer may be linked with many inherited diseases. The cause of thyroid cancer is unknown currently, while some factors may increase its risk, including:

  • Female Gender
  • Exposure to high levels of radiation, especially in childhood
  • Family history
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Cowden disease
  • Carney complex, type I
  • Familial nonmedullary thyroid carcinoma
  • Iodine deficiency


Thyroid cancers usually don’t cause any symptoms at the early stage. As they grow, some symptoms may appear, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Feel a lump in the neck
  • Pain in the neck or throat
  • A constant cough that is not due to a cold


Doctors usually diagnose thyroid cancer from the results of some exams and tests, including:


Depending on your health condition, the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, doctors have several treatment options: surgery, radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy, thyroid hormone therapy, external beam radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.


  • Removing all or most of the thyroid (thyroidectomy or near-total thyroidectomy)
  • Removing lymph nodes in the neck
  • Removing a portion of the thyroid (thyroid lobectomy)

Radioactive iodine (radioiodine) therapy (RAI)

This therapy usually uses oral radioiodine as a capsule or liquid after thyroidectomy to destroy remaining cancer cells. RAI also can be used to treat thyroid cancer that has spread or recurred.

Thyroid hormone therapy

If you had a thyroidectomy, your body cannot produce the thyroid hormone it needs. You will need to take thyroid hormone (levothyroxine) for life to maintain normal metabolism.

External beam radiation therapy

This therapy uses high-energy rays (or particles) from a machine to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. It most common in the treatment of medullary thyroid cancer and anaplastic thyroid cancer. It also can be used if RAI has no response.


Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs orally or injects into a vein so that they can enter the bloodstream and destroy cancer cells. Drugs that are usually used in chemotherapy include:

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs that target cancer cells. This makes most healthy cell left and has fewer side effects than chemotherapy. Drugs that can be used in target therapy include:

Please consult your doctors for your specific treatment options.

Keywords: thyroid cancer; thyroid gland.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.