What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer and How Is It Diagnosed?

The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a hard lump in the neck, but most patients don't experience any symptoms. The thyroid gland is located in the lower front of the neck, below the larynx (voice box) located in the upper part of the neck and above the collarbones. Thyroid cancer (carcinoma) usually appears as a painless lump in this area. In most cases, the lump affects only one side, and the results of thyroid function tests (blood tests) are usually normal.

Thyroid cancer often causes a painless lump or swelling in the lower part of the front of the neck. The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. Lumps or bumps in the thyroid gland are called thyroid nodules. Most thyroid nodules are benign, but about 2 or 3 out of 20 are cancerous.

Sometimes, these nodules produce too much thyroid hormone and cause hyperthyroidism. Nodules that produce too much thyroid hormone are almost always benign. A thyroid nodule is an unusual bulge (growth) of cells in the thyroid gland. Possible complications of hyperthyroidism include irregular heartbeats, weak bones and thyrotoxic crises, a rare but life-threatening intensification of signs and symptoms that requires immediate medical attention.

However, some thyroid nodules may grow large enough to be visible or make it difficult to swallow or breathe. Most of these are benign (not cancerous), but others are malignant (cancerous), meaning they can spread to nearby tissues and other parts of the body. The thyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. As part of the Southern California Thyroid Cancer Consortium, physicians in the Cedars-Sinai Thyroid Cancer Program are well-versed in administering targeted therapies and keep up to date with current clinical trials on the West Coast. Although rare, up to 30 percent of patients with medullary thyroid cancer are associated with genetic syndromes that can also increase the risk of developing other tumors.

Sometimes, cancer cells can spread beyond the neck to the lungs, bones, and other parts of the body. Thyroid cancer can come back despite successful treatment, and it can even come back if your thyroid has been removed. Unlike other types of cancer, traditional chemotherapy has not been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of thyroid cancer. But when you examine the thyroid with an ultrasound, you find that many more people have nodules that are too small to feel, and most of them are benign. Problems can occur when a nodule or goiter produces thyroid hormone, leading to too much of the hormone in the body.

The differences are important because they affect the severity of the cancer and the type of treatment needed. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Association of Endocrinologists and European Thyroid Association Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice for the Diagnosis and Management of Thyroid Association. The prognosis for follicular cancer is not as good as that of papillary cancer, although it is still very good in most cases. Often, you won't know you have a thyroid nodule until your doctor discovers it during a routine medical exam. The American Cancer Society offers programs and services to help you during and after cancer treatment.

Greta Rulnick
Greta Rulnick

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