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Thyroid Cancer

A graphical image showing the inside of a person's throat, their thyroid highlighted and a cancerous mass shown in red.

Thyroid nodules are common, and not always cancerous. There are different types of thyroid cancer that can develop when healthy cells in the thyroid gland, located in the neck, change and start to grow out of control. The most commonly diagnosed types are papillary and follicular, and when found early are often curable. Other types of thyroid cancers include medullary, anaplastic, and Hurthle cell cancer.

Some risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

Age: Although thyroid cancer can be diagnosed at any age, it is commonly seen in people between 20 and 55 years old.

Gender: Women have a much higher incidence of the disease, being diagnosed nearly 75% more than men.

Race/ethnicity: Caucasians and the Asian population are more likely to develop thyroid cancer, but the disease can affect people of any race or ethnic population.

Family history: Certain types of genes can cause an increased risk. Having a family history of hereditary precancerous polyps in the colon also can be an increased risk factor of the disease.

Medical history: Having a history of a goiter (enlarged thyroid) can increase a person’s risk of thyroid cancer. Also, known to be risk factor is previous exposure to moderate levels of radiation which can include:

  • Certain X-Ray treatments used before 1950
  • Radiation treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma or other lymphomas in the head or neck.

Exposure: Radioactive iodine exposure, especially during childhood or exposure to ionizing radiation, including radioactive fallout from atomic weapons or a nuclear power plant fallout can be an increased risk factor.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Swollen glands in the neck and/or a lump in the front of the neck, near the Adam’s apple (most common)
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent cough not associated with a cold or other illness
  • Pain or difficulty with swallowing
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Neck or throat pain

Screening & Diagnostic Testing

A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure. Additional testing may include:

  • Laryngoscopy
  • Blood studies (hormone and chemistry)
  • Imaging: Ultrasound, CT scan
  • Biopsy

Helpful Patient Resources:

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and it is an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below:

National Cancer Institute

Thyroid Cancer -Patient Version 

American Cancer Society

Thyroid Cancer

National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Guidelines for Patients