Fact Sheet

Thyroid Cancer

  • Editors
  • Bryan Haugen, MD
    Leonard Wartofsky, MD

Thyroid cancer occurs when tumors, or nodules, grow in the thyroid gland. The majority of nodules, around 90 percent, are benign (noncancerous), but those that are cancerous can spread throughout the body and be life-threatening.

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

One of the reasons thyroid cancer goes undetected is because of the lack of thyroid cancer symptoms. In its early stages, most patients experience no symptoms of thyroid cancer. As it progresses, patients may experience:

If you experience any of these thyroid cancer symptoms, talk to your doctor right away.

Causes and Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid glandNo specific cause of thyroid cancer has been found. Some people are at higher risk for the disease, but no particular cause has been determined. Risk factors include:

If you have a risk factor, it does not mean that you will get thyroid cancer, and some people can develop the condition with no risk factors. If you have a nodule and any of these risk factors, you should be further evaluated.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer can be one of the following types:

Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer

Because there are so few symptoms of thyroid cancer, the disease is usually diagnosed after a patient or doctor finds a nodule on the thyroid. The nodule is tested with fine-needle aspiration, which determines if the nodule is cancer and what type it is.

Treating Thyroid Cancer

Treatment options for thyroid cancer include:

If you think you have a thyroid nodule, see an endocrinologist (a hormone specialist) for diagnosis and treatment.

Questions to ask your doctor