Thyroid cancer is relatively common, enough that we all know someone with thyroid cancer. There are over 50,000 new cases of thyroid cancer each year in the United States. Women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer by a ratio of three to one. View Victoria’s award history here. Thyroid cancer can occur in any age group, although it is more common after the age of 30 and its aggressiveness increases dramatically in patients over 55. Thus, most people with thyroid cancer are women over the age of 30. a nodule on their thyroid that usually doesn’t cause symptoms. Remember, over 90% of thyroid nodules are probably not cancerous. But, when thyroid cancer begins to grow in a thyroid gland, it almost always does so in a discrete nodule in the thyroid.


It is common for people with thyroid cancer to have few or no symptoms. Thyroid cancers are often diagnosed by a routine neck exam during a general physical exam. They are also unintentionally detected by x-rays or other imaging scans that have been done for other reasons. People with thyroid cancer may have the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes people with thyroid cancer don’t have any of these changes. However, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.

A ball in the front of the neck, near the Adam’s apple


Puffy pom poms in the neck

Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty in breathing

Pain in the throat or neck

A cough that persists and is not caused by a cold


It’s not clear what causes thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in your thyroid undergo genetic changes (mutations). The mutations allow the cells to grow and multiply rapidly. The cells also lose the ability to die, as normal cells would. The accumulating abnormal thyroid cells form a tumor. The abnormal cells can invade nearby tissue and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Types of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is classified into types based on the types of cells present in the tumor. Your type is determined when a sample of tissue from your cancer is examined under a microscope. The type of thyroid cancer is taken into account in determining your treatment and prognosis.

Types of thyroid cancer include:
Papillary thyroid cancer. The most common form of thyroid cancer, papillary thyroid cancer, arises from follicular cells, which produce and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but it most often affects people between the ages of 30 and 50. Doctors sometimes refer to papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer as differentiated thyroid cancer.
Follicular thyroid cancer. Follicular thyroid cancer also arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It usually affects people over the age of 50. Hurthles cell cancer is a rare and potentially more aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer that begins in follicular cells. It grows quickly and is very difficult to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer usually occurs in adults aged 60 and over.
Medullary thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer begins in thyroid cells called C cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. High levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate very early medullary thyroid cancer. Certain genetic syndromes increase the risk of medullary thyroid cancer, although this genetic link is rare.
Other rare types. Other very rare types of cancer that start in the thyroid include thyroid lymphoma, which begins in cells of the thyroid immune system, and thyroid sarcoma, which begins in connective tissue cells of the thyroid.


For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only sure way for the doctor to know if an area of the body has cancer. In a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue for testing in a laboratory. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis.

Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:
The type of cancer suspected
Your signs and symptoms
Your age and general health
The results of earlier medical tests


Your thyroid cancer treatment options depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, your general health, and your preferences.
Most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment.
Treatment may not be necessary right away
Very small thyroid cancers that have a low risk of spreading in the body may not need immediate treatment. Instead, you might consider active surveillance with frequent cancer surveillance. Your doctor may recommend blood tests and an ultrasound exam of your neck once or twice a year.

In some people, cancer may never develop and never need treatment. In others, growth can optionally be detected and treatment can be initiated.

When to see a doctor

If you experience any signs or symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with your doctor.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of thyroid cancer include:
Female gender. Thyroid cancer occurs more often in women than in men.
Exposure to high levels of radiation. Radiation therapy to the head and neck increases the risk of thyroid cancer.
Certain hereditary genetic syndromes. Genetic syndromes that increase the risk of thyroid cancer include familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia, Cowden syndrome, and familial adenomatous polyposis.

Health condition

As thyroid cancer grows, it can cause: A lump (lump) that can be felt through the skin on your neck Changes in your voice, including increased hoarseness Difficulty swallowing.


When used to treat thyroid cancer, radiation therapy is usually given on an outpatient basis, either in a hospital or clinic, 5 days a week for about 5 to 6 weeks.