Fact Sheet

Thyroid Cancer

  • Editors
  • Bryan Haugen, MD
    Leonard Wartofsky, MD

What is thyroid cancer?

The thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck just below the larynx (voice box).  It produces hormones that regulate your metabolism—how your body uses energy.  Thyroid cancer occurs when tumors, also known as nodules, grow in the thyroid gland.

Thyroid gland

Most nodules (about 90%) are benign (noncancerous), but those that are cancerous can spread throughout the body and be life-threatening.  

What causes thyroid cancer and who is at risk?

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is not known, but people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to get the disease.  These risk factors include

Did you know?

Most people with thyroid cancer have no symptoms.

Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get thyroid cancer, and some people who do get the disease have no risk factors.  Still, having a thyroid nodule with any of these risk factors requires evaluation. 

What are the different types of thyroid cancer?

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

Typically, you might find a nodule yourself.  Or your doctor might find a nodule during a routine examination.

The most reliable way to diagnose thyroid cancer is with a fine-needle aspiration.  This procedure uses a thin needle inserted into the nodule to remove cells or fluid from the nodule for examination under a microscope.  This test is very precise for identifying cancerous or “suspicious” nodules and can often identify the type of cancer.

How is thyroid cancer treated?

The treatment varies, depending on the type of cancer and whether it has spread.  Treatment options include

What should you do if you think you have a thyroid nodule?

If you think you have a thyroid nodule, see an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormone-related conditions) for diagnosis and treatment.  Then get the recommended treatment and follow up with your doctor as needed.

Questions to ask your doctor