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Thyroid Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, And All You Should Know Thyroid Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, And All You Should Know

Thyroid Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Complications, And All You Should Know

Surya Hospital

April 03, 2024 |
9 Min Read | 112

A tumor that originates in the thyroid is called thyroid cancer. Beneath Adam's apple, at the base of the neck, is the butterfly-shaped gland known as the thyroid. Hormones that control high blood pressure, weight, body temperature, and heart rate are produced by the thyroid. At first, the symptoms of thyroid cancer may not appear. However, when it gets bigger, it might show symptoms and cause things like neck swelling, voice changes, and trouble swallowing. The thyroid cancer subtypes are varied. Some varieties can be extremely aggressive, although most grow slowly. With treatment, the majority of thyroid cancers are curable. There seems to be a rise in thyroid cancer incidence. Improved imaging technology may be the reason for the increase, as it enables medical professionals to detect tiny thyroid malignancies on CT and MRI scans performed for other purposes (incidental thyroid cancers). When thyroid malignancies are discovered in this manner, they are generally tiny tumors that respond well to therapy.


The majority of thyroid tumors don't exhibit any early warning signs or symptoms. As thyroid cancer spreads, it could result in:

  • A nodule (lump) that is apparent through your neck's skin
  • a sense that shirt collars that fit closely are getting too tight
  • Vocal alterations, such as an increase in hoarseness
  • Having trouble swallowing
  • enlarged lymph nodes in your throat
  • Throat and neck pain


Thyroid cancer happens when cells in the thyroid develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell the cell what to do. The changes, which doctors call mutations, tell the cells to grow and multiply rapidly. The cells go on living when healthy cells would naturally die. The accumulating cells form a mass called a tumor. The tumor can grow to invade nearby tissue and can spread (metastasize) to the lymph nodes in the neck. Sometimes the cancer cells can spread beyond the neck to the lungs, bones, and other parts of the body. For most thyroid cancers, it's not clear what causes the DNA changes that cause the cancer.

Types Of Thyroid Cancer

Based on the types of cells discovered within the tumor, thyroid cancer is categorized into different forms. When a sample of tissue from your cancer is studied under a microscope, your type is found. Treatment options and prognosis are based on the type of thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer comes in various forms.

  • Differentiated thyroid cancers: This broad category comprises many kinds of thyroid cancer that begin in the cells that produce and store thyroid hormones. We refer to these cells as follicular cells. Under a microscope, the cells of differentiated thyroid carcinoma resemble normal cells.
  • Papillary thyroid cancer: This is the most prevalent kind of thyroid cancer. Though it can occur at any age, people between the ages of 30 and 50 are the most commonly affected. Even in cases where the cancer cells spread to the neck lymph nodes, the majority of papillary thyroid tumors are small and respond effectively to treatment. A small percentage of papillary thyroid cancers are aggressive, and they have the potential to spread to other parts of the body or enlarge to damage neck tissues.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer: Those older than 50 are usually affected by this rare kind of thyroid cancer. It is rare for follicular thyroid cancer cells to migrate to the neck lymph nodes. However, some large, aggressive tumors have the potential to spread to other body areas. Most frequently, follicular thyroid cancer spreads to the bones and lungs.
  • Hurthle cell thyroid cancer: It was previously thought that this rare kind of thyroid cancer was a kind of follicular thyroid cancer. Because cancer cells react differently to various therapies, they are now recognized as a distinct type. Aggressive Hurthle cell thyroid tumors can invade surrounding neck structures and spread to other parts of the body. 
  • Poorly differentiated thyroid cancer: This rare form of thyroid cancer generally doesn't respond to standard treatments and is more aggressive than other differentiated thyroid tumors.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: Thyroid cancer of this rare kind spreads swiftly and might be difficult to cure. Treatments, however, may be able to halt the disease's advancement. People older than 60 are more likely to develop anaplastic thyroid cancer. Severe symptoms and indicators may include rapidly worsening neck swelling, which can make breathing and swallowing difficult.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer: The C cells of the thyroid, which are responsible for producing calcitonin, are the first to develop this uncommon form of thyroid cancer. At a very early stage, elevated blood levels of calcitonin can be a sign of medullary thyroid cancer. A gene called RET that is inherited from parents to offspring is responsible for a portion of medullary thyroid tumors. Mutations in the RET gene have been linked to multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 2, and familial medullary thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer risk is increased by familial medullary thyroid carcinoma. Thyroid cancer, cancer of the adrenal glands, and other cancers are more common in people with type 2 multiple endocrine neoplasia.
  • Other rare types: The thyroid might be the site of other extremely uncommon cancers. These include thyroid sarcoma, which starts in the thyroid's connective tissue cells, and thyroid lymphoma, which starts in the immune system cells of the thyroid.

Risk Factors

The following factors may raise the risk of thyroid cancer:

  • Female sex: Compared to men, women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer. Experts believe it may be tied to the hormone estrogen. People who are assigned feminine sex at birth have higher levels of estrogen in their systems.
  • High-level radiation exposure: Radiation therapy for the head and neck increases the risk of thyroid cancer.
  • Inherited genetic disorders: Genetic disorders that raise the risk of thyroid cancer include familial medullary thyroid cancer, multiple endocrine neoplasia, Cowden syndrome, and familial adenomatous polyposis. Thyroid cancers that can run in families include medullary thyroid cancer and papillary thyroid cancer.


Thyroid Cancer That Comes Back
Thyroid cancer can recur after successful therapy, and it can even return after your thyroid has been removed. This may occur if cancer cells spread outside the thyroid before it is removed. The majority of thyroid tumors, including the two most prevalent forms, are unlikely to return. Based on the specifics of your cancer, your doctor can tell you if it is more likely to reoccur. Recurrence is more likely if your cancer is severe or spreads beyond the thyroid. Thyroid cancer recurrence is most commonly discovered within the first five years of diagnosis.
The prognosis for recurrent thyroid carcinoma is still favorable. It is frequently treatable, and the majority of people will find success.
Thyroid cancer can return in
Lymph nodes in the throat
Small bits of thyroid tissue were left over during surgery.
Other parts of the body, including the lungs and bones
Your doctor may recommend regular blood tests or thyroid scans to look for evidence that your cancer has returned. During these appointments, your physician may inquire whether you have experienced any signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer recurrence, such as:

  • Neck pain.
  • A bump on the neck.
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Voice changes, like hoarseness

Thyroid Cancer That Spreads (Metastasizes)

Thyroid cancer can spread to surrounding lymph nodes and other regions of the body. Cancer cells that spread may be noticed when you are first diagnosed or after you have received treatment. A large percentage of thyroid tumors never spread.
Thyroid cancer typically spreads to:

  • Lymph nodes in the neck
  • Lungs 
  • Bones
  • Brain 
  • Liver 
  • Skin to skin

When you are first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, imaging tests such as CT and MRI may reveal the spread of the illness. Following successful treatment, your doctor may urge follow-up checkups to check for evidence that your thyroid cancer has spread. These consultations may involve nuclear imaging scans that use a radioactive type of iodine and a specific camera to detect thyroid cancer cells.


Doctors don't know what causes the gene mutations that cause most thyroid tumors; therefore, there is no strategy to avoid the disease in people with an average risk.
Adults and children who have an inherited gene that raises their chance of medullary thyroid cancer may seek thyroid surgery to avoid it. Consult a genetic counselor about your thyroid cancer risk and treatment choices.


Thyroid cancer is a major health problem that calls for early recognition as well as detection of its symptoms. Common symptoms include neck pain, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing. Although most nodules are benign, early detection is critical for successful treatment. Early intervention reduces complications and provides optimal long-term outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is thyroid cancer serious?

A cancer diagnosis is concerning, but there is some good news! Most thyroid cancer develops more slowly than other types of cancer, making it extremely curable. 98% of people survive 20 years after being diagnosed with the most common type, papillary thyroid cancer.

Does thyroid cancer spread rapidly?

Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC) is difficult to treat because it is highly aggressive and can spread rapidly throughout your neck and to distant sections of your body, including your lungs, bones, and brain.

Is thyroid cancer very curable?

Most thyroid cancers are curable, especially if they haven't spread to other regions of the body.

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