What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer develops when cells in the thyroid gland grow in an abnormal way and divide out of control, forming a tumour.
What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer often develops slowly, and may have no obvious symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- a painless lump in the neck or throat
- swollen glands in the neck
- a hoarse voice or cough that doesn’t go away
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
These symptoms can be caused by other problems, so if you notice any of them see your doctor as soon as possible.
What causes thyroid cancer?
Doctors don't yet know what causes thyroid cells to become cancerous, although exposure to radiation and certain genetic factors are known to increase the risk of thyroid cancer.
How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?
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How is thyroid cancer treated?
Most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment.
Usually, people with thyroid cancer need surgery, either to remove their entire thyroid gland (total thyroidectomy) or a part of it (partial or hemi-thyroidectomy). Sometimes it’s also necessary to remove nearby lymph nodes.
Other treatments include thyroid hormone replacement therapy (medicine to replace the hormones the thyroid can no longer produce), and radioactive iodine treatment (used to destroy any cancer remaining after surgery). Some people also need chemotherapy, targeted drug therapies or external radiotherapy.
In some cases, where the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the thyroid gland, doctors may recommend active surveillance. This means closely monitoring the cancer, rather than having immediate treatment. Active surveillance usually involves regular ultrasounds and physical examinations.
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Last reviewed: November 2020