Thyroid cancer forms in the thyroid gland, an organ at the base of the throat that makes hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. Four main types of thyroid cancer are:
The four types are based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope.
Estimated new cases and deaths from thyroid cancer in the United States each year:
- New cases: 33,550
- Deaths: 1,530
Early thyroid cancer often does not cause symptoms. But as the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
- A lump, or nodule, in the front of the neck near the Adam's apple
- Hoarseness or difficulty speaking in a normal voice
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Pain in the throat or neck
People with thyroid cancer have many treatment options. Depending on the type and stage, thyroid cancer may be treated with surgery, radioactive iodine, hormone treatment, external radiation, or chemotherapy. Some patients receive a combination of treatments.
Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. The surgeon may remove all or part of the thyroid. The type of surgery depends on the type and stage of thyroid cancer, the size of the nodule, and the patient's age.
- Total thyroidectomy: Surgery to remove the entire thyroid. Nearby lymph nodes are sometimes removed, too. Some patients who have a total thyroidectomy also receive radioactive iodine or external radiation therapy.
- Lobectomy: Some patients with papillary or follicular thyroid cancer may be treated with lobectomy. The lobe with the cancerous nodule is removed. The surgeon also may remove part of the remaining thyroid tissue or nearby lymph nodes. Some patients who have a lobectomy receive radioactive iodine therapy or additional surgery to remove remaining thyroid tissue.
Nearly all patients who have part or all of the thyroid removed will take thyroid hormone pills to replace the natural hormone.