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Thyroid cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in your thyroid gland. These cells often form small tumors called nodules. But most thyroid nodules aren't cancer and don't cause harm.
There are several different types of thyroid cancer. The treatment for thyroid cancer is often successful with the right treatment plan.
Experts don't know what causes thyroid cancer. Like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. These DNA changes may include changes that are inherited as well as those that happen as you get older.
Many people don't have any symptoms when they are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This cancer is often found when an imaging test is done for another reason. The most common symptom is a lump or swelling in your neck. Other symptoms may include pain or trouble swallowing. Or your voice may be hoarse.
If you have a lump in your neck that could be thyroid cancer, you'll likely have a fine-needle biopsy. This test may be all that is needed to diagnose thyroid cancer. In some cases, a molecular test or surgery will also be done to find out if a lump (nodule) is thyroid cancer.
Treatment for thyroid cancer often includes surgery, radioactive iodine, and thyroid hormone therapy. It may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. Very low-risk thyroid cancer may not need treatment right away. With regular checkups and tests, your doctor can closely watch the cancer for any signs of growth (active surveillance).
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Experts don't know what causes thyroid cancer. But like other cancers, changes in the DNA of your cells seem to play a role. These DNA changes may include changes that are inherited as well as those that happen as you get older.
People who have been exposed to a lot of radiation have a greater chance of getting thyroid cancer.
A dental X-ray now and then will not increase your chance of getting thyroid cancer. But past radiation treatment of your head, neck, or chest (especially during childhood) can put you at risk of getting thyroid cancer.
A risk factor for thyroid cancer is something that increases your chance of getting this cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors can make it more likely that you will get thyroid cancer. But it doesn't mean that you will definitely get it. And many people who get thyroid cancer don't have any of these risk factors.
Risk factors include:
Most thyroid cancer cannot be prevented.
One rare type of thyroid cancer, called medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), runs in families. A genetic test can tell you if you have a greater chance of getting MTC. If this test shows that you have an increased risk, you can have your thyroid gland removed to reduce your risk for thyroid cancer later in life.
Many people don't have any symptoms when they are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This cancer is often found when an imaging test, like a CT scan, is done for another reason.
When thyroid cancer grows, it may cause these symptoms:
Thyroid cancer is a disease that occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow in the thyroid gland. You may notice a lump in your neck and then go to your doctor. Or your doctor may notice a lump during a routine physical exam or on an imaging test that you are having for another health problem.
Almost all thyroid cancers are treated with surgery. After surgery, you may need to take thyroid hormone medicine for the rest of your life. Some people may also need to have radioactive iodine therapy. In cases where surgery isn't possible or radioactive iodine therapy doesn't work, other treatments are available.
In some cases, thyroid cancer can return after treatment. It can show up in the neck area or in another part of the body, such as the lungs. Follow-up care and tests can help catch thyroid cancer early if it returns.
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
To diagnose thyroid cancer, your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. You may have tests, including:
If tests show that cancer is possible, you may have:
Treatment for thyroid cancer is based on the type and stage of the cancer and other things, like your overall health. Treatment may include:
You'll probably have surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid gland. The doctor may also remove some lymph nodes to check them for cancer.
You may get radioactive iodine to destroy any thyroid tissue that remains after surgery.
After surgery, you'll probably take a daily pill to replace hormones normally made by the thyroid gland. This can also help keep thyroid cancer from coming back.
Sometimes treatment includes radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.
Your doctor will talk with you about your options before making a treatment plan.
Palliative care is a type of care for people who have a serious illness. It's different from care to cure your illness, called curative treatment. Palliative care provides an extra layer of support that can improve your quality of life—not just in your body, but also in your mind and spirit. Sometimes palliative care is combined with curative treatment.
The kind of care you get depends on what you need. Your goals guide your care. You can get both palliative care and care to treat your illness. You don't have to choose one or the other.
Palliative care can help you manage symptoms, pain, or side effects from treatment. It may help you and those close to you better understand your illness, talk more openly about your feelings, or decide what treatment you want or don't want. It can also help you communicate better with your doctors, nurses, family, and friends.
There are things you can do to help manage the effects of cancer and the side effects of treatment.
Some people use complementary therapies along with medical treatment. They may help relieve the symptoms and stress of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment. Therapies that may be helpful include:
Talk with your doctor about any of these options you would like to try. And let your doctor know if you are already using any complementary therapies. They are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment. But they may help you feel better and cope better with treatment.
Relationships take on new importance when you're faced with cancer. Your family and friends can help support you. You may also want to look beyond those who are close to you.
Remember that the people around you want to support you, and asking for help isn't a sign of weakness.
Your friends and family want to help, but some of them may not know what to do. It may help to make a list. For example, you might ask them to:
Places to turn for support include:
Current as of:
February 28, 2023
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
Current as of: February 28, 2023
Clinical Review Board:
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
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