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Thyroid Cancer

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About 10 percent of lumps or nodules in the thyroid are cancerous.

Thyroid cancer forms in the cells of the thyroid gland. It's most commonly found in smaller thyroid nodules that often are detected “incidentally” by:

  • Doctors on routine neck examinations
  • Imaging of the neck for unrelated reasons
  • Patients themselves

Thyroid cancer can sometimes be completely treated with surgery, but often also requires radioactive iodine therapy after the thyroid is removed.

Survival of thyroid cancer is typically over 90 percent, but more advanced thyroid cancers often recur and are occasionally fatal. Early detection and appropriate therapy remain the key to a good, long-term outcome.

Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer

Although anyone can develop thyroid cancer, certain factors may increase a person’s risk for developing the disease, including:

  • Age
  • Gender (the incidence of thyroid cancer is increasing in men and is the fastest growing cancer among women worldwide)
  • Race
  • Family history of thyroid cancer
  • Significant radiation exposure

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Often, there are no symptoms associated with early-stage thyroid cancers. That is why it's important to have your neck examined annually and thyroid nodules evaluated quickly.

As a thyroid cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • A lump or nodule in the front of the neck
  • Hoarseness or voice changes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Pain in the front of the neck

Most thyroid cancer patients have normal thyroid hormone levels.

Types of Thyroid Cancers

Thyroid cancers fall into four main types:

Papillary Thyroid Cancer

  • Most common thyroid cancer
  • Makes up about 80 percent of all thyroid cancers
  • More common in women than in men, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 40
  • Generally has a very good prognosis

Follicular Thyroid Cancer

  • Second most common thyroid cancer
  • Makes up about 15 percent of all thyroid cancers
  • Slightly more aggressive and usually occurs in an older age group than papillary thyroid cancer
  • More common in women than in men

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

  • Less common thyroid cancer
  • Makes up less than 5 percent of all thyroid cancers
  • Often genetically inherited
  • May be part of syndromes that involve other types of endocrine tumors or other cancers

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

  • Very rare but dangerous, often fatal, thyroid cancer
  • Makes up less than 1 percent of all thyroid cancers
  • Occurs mainly in people who are 60 years of age and older
  • One of the most aggressive solid tumors known, growing quickly and invading other structures, such as the windpipe

Learn More About Thyroid Cancer in our Health Library