Health Problems

Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Thyroid cancer involves the abnormal growth of cells in the thyroid gland in the neck. It is important that individuals are aware of symptoms that may be indicative of thyroid cancer, as it allows for early detection of disease and a more favorable prognosis.

Nodule in the Neck

The most common initial presenting symptom of thyroid cancer is the formation of a lump in the thyroid region of the neck, which often does not cause any pain.  Swelling in the neck area is also common, particularly in the lower region where the thyroid gland rests.

The vast majority of nodules in the thyroid region are benign and only 5% of all cases tested are found to be malignant.

Young people under the age of 20 that display symptoms of a lump or swelling near the thyroid gland are of particular concern, as they are much less likely to present with benign nodules. As such, diagnostic tests should be conducted as soon as possible to investigate the presence of thyroid cancer.

Enlarged lymph node in the neck

Another sign that some patients first notice in enlargement of the lymph nodes of the neck. Lymph nodes normally become swollen in response to infection in the area and the cancerous cells can also invade the lymph nodes, particularly in more advanced stages of the disease.

Cough and Hoarse Voice

People with thyroid cancer are often affected by a persistent cough, which often leads to hoarsening of the voice. Over time, this can cause significant changes to the voice and the way it sounds.

Shortness of Breath

Dyspnea, also known as shortness of breath, is a common symptom of people with thyroid cancer. This may be accompanied by a general difficulty in breathing, usually due to the physical obstruction of the enlarged thyroid gland or nodule against the esophagus.

Difficulty Swallowing

Dysphagia, also known as difficulty swallowing, may also affect people with early stages of thyroid cancer. This is likely as a result of the obstruction of the thyroid gland, which inhibits the ability of the muscles to contract and allow the normal mechanism of swallowing to occur.

Differential Diagnosis

The symptoms of thyroid cancer are not specific to the condition and may indicate various different health conditions.

A thyroid function blood test is usually conducted to examine the functionality of the hormones usually produce in the thyroid gland, such as T3, T4 and calcitonin.

A laryngoscopy uses a mirror on a flexible tube to visualize the voice box and any particular changes to the thyroid gland.

Several imaging and scan techniques may be used to depict the thyroid gland and any evidence of malignant cancer. These scans may include an ultrasound, computer tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The most accurate method to determine if the thyroid gland contains cancerous cells is to take a tissue sample, a biopsy, which can be microscopically examined under laboratory settings. This is uniformly conducted to confirm the diagnosis and eliminate other health conditions with similar signs and symptoms.



Further Reading

  • All Thyroid Cancer Content
  • Thyroid Cancer – What is Thyroid Cancer?
  • Thyroid Cancer Treatments
  • Hürthle Cell Thyroid Cancer

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.

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