Thyroid Cancer Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Unfortunately patients with either benign or malignant thyroid nodules usually have no symptoms. Thyroid cancers are generally slow growing and tend only cause symptoms when they invade or push on nearby organs in the neck. The thyroid gland is normally wrapped around the trachea (windpipe) and close to the esophagus (food tube). As with other cancers, treatment is likely to be more successful if the tumor is found early. A patient previously exposed to low-dose radiotherapy (radiation) to the head and neck area may be more likely to get thyroid cancer. In general, a patient with any one of the following symptoms should see a doctor promptly:

  • A lump or nodule in the front or side of the neck

  • Hoarseness or change in voice quality

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • Pain in the throat or neck

Types of Thyroid Cancer

The four major types of thyroid cancer are:


• Follicular

• Anaplastic

• Medullary

Each type of cancer is caused by an abnormality of a specific type of thyroid cell. The follicular cells are abnormally affected in papillary, follicular, and anaplastic thyroid cancer. The parafollicular cells are affected in medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). About 85 percent of all thyroid cancers are papillary carcinoma, follicular carcinoma or a mixture of both types. These cancers usually grow slowly. The chance for cure is excellent if the tumors are found early and have not spread elsewhere in the body. The first place where thyroid cancer spreads are the lymph nodes in the neck.

The severity of thyroid cancer depends on a few factors including the patient’s age at time of diagnosis, the type of thyroid cancer, the tumor size, and whether the tumor has grown through the outer wall of the thyroid gland. Sometimes the spread of the tumor to the lymph nodes is found during surgery and those lymph nodes can be removed. Cancer may recur in the lymph nodes or other distant sites months and even years later.