What are the Symptoms of Cancerous Thyroid Nodules?

Thyroid nodules are lumps that can form in the thyroid gland, located in the neck. Most thyroid nodules are benign and cause no symptoms, but a small percentage of them can be cancerous. Symptoms of cancerous thyroid nodules can include a lump that can be felt through the skin of the neck, feeling that tight shirt collars are getting too tight, changes in voice, including increased hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and neck and throat pain. It is not possible to determine which nodules are cancerous by evaluating symptoms alone.

Most cancerous thyroid nodules grow slowly and may be small when discovered by a doctor. Aggressive thyroid cancers are rare, with nodules that can be large, firm, fixed, and fast-growing. An overgrowth of normal thyroid tissue is sometimes called a thyroid adenoma. 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.

Between 5 and 10 percent of thyroid nodules are malignant or cancerous, although most cause no symptoms. Rarely, they can cause neck swelling, pain, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, or changes in the sound of the voice as they grow. The main symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling in the front of the neck, just below the Adam's apple, which is usually painless. If you are taking thyroid hormone replacement tablets, you will need to stop taking them for 2 to 4 weeks before undergoing treatment with radioactive iodine. NYU Langone physicians provide comprehensive and compassionate care for people with this form of thyroid cancer, as well as resources and support for their families. Thyroglobulin is a protein released by a healthy thyroid gland, but it can also be released by cancer cells.

There is a higher risk of thyroid cancer in nodules found in children and adolescents compared to adults. Medullary thyroid carcinomas tend to spread faster than DTCs, so any nearby lymph nodes, as well as the thyroid gland, may need to be removed. Your cancer team will make recommendations after reviewing your case, but the final decision will be yours. First, the doctor may perform a physical exam, manually palpating the neck and throat to check for abnormal growths or areas of swelling, such as the thyroid and lymph nodes. It's a good idea to become familiar with how your neck normally feels and then continue to check your neck regularly for any signs of an abnormality. It is rarely successful in curing anaplastic cancer, but it can slow its progression and help relieve symptoms.

Follicular thyroid cancer is more common in people between the ages of 40 and 60, but it can occur at any age. Once cancer reaches the lymphatic system, it can spread to other parts of the body such as blood, bones and organs. The most common types of thyroid cancer are papillary carcinomas and follicular carcinomas which are known as differentiated thyroid cancers (DTC). There are several treatment options available for primary and recurrent thyroid cancer but early detection is key. If you have any questions about your risk of developing thyroid cancer or thyroid disease talk to your provider. Most thyroid nodules are usually benign but it's important to have a health professional examine any unusual tumors.

A blood test known as a thyroid function test is used to check if neck swelling is due to other thyroid problems.

Greta Rulnick
Greta Rulnick

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