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Thyroid cancer

2-minute read

What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer develops when abnormal cells in the thyroid gland grow and divide out of control, forming a tumour.

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.

Thyroid cancer symptoms and signs

Thyroid cancer often develops slowly, and may have no obvious symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

These symptoms can be caused by other problems, so if you notice any of them see your doctor as soon as possible.

The diagnosis of thyroid cancer usually involves a physical examination, as well as tests such as blood tests, imaging such as an ultrasound or CT scan, biopsy and internal examination of the throat.

Thyroid cancer treatment

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 (medication 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.

Last reviewed: November 2016

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