For such a small organ, the thyroid plays a vital role in regulating many bodily functions–-from digestion and metabolism to mood maintenance and brain development. While most types of growths and tumors that develop in the thyroid gland are benign (harmless), there are malignant (cancerous ones) that can spread into nearby tissues and to other parts of the body.
The main types of thyroid cancer include:
- Differentiated – developed from thyroid follicular cells (which produce thyroid hormones to regulate metabolism)
- Medullary – developed from the C cells (which produce calcitonin, a hormone that helps control the amount of calcium in the blood) of the thyroid gland
- Anaplastic – thought to sometimes develop from an existing papillary or follicular cancer (two differentiated cancers); rare, rapidly growing and difficult to treat
According to the American Cancer Society, about 53,990 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. (40,900 in women, and 13,090 in men) are estimated for 2018. Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but about two-thirds of all cases are found in people between the ages of 20 and 55. Though the death rate remains very low compared to most other cancers,––most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment––it’s important to recognize the symptoms for a timely diagnosis.
A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located right below the Adam’s apple at the base of your neck. If you notice a lump in your neck that can be seen or felt through the skin, it could be a pressing sign.
Swelling in the neck
Though not all enlargement of the neck area is cancerous (such as goiter, a symptom of hypothyroidism), an ultrasound of the thyroid can confirm if a nodule is in fact benign.
Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
Though thyroid cancer is a rare cause of neck pain, pain is usually a good indicator that something in your body needs attention. If you have a pain in your neck or throat that lasts longer than a few weeks, check with a medical professional to see what may be causing it. Be sure to also mention if you notice that these other symptoms accompany it.
Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
While it is uncommon to detect thyroid cancer this way, take heed. Since the thyroid sits right below the larynx (voice box), a nodule may be pressing on this area to cause unusual changes in the voice.
Trouble swallowing or breathing
The thyroid is also located at the top of the trachea (windpipe) which sits above the esophagus (the tube connecting your throat to your stomach). A developing thyroid cancer may put pressure on these areas, making breathing or swallowing difficult.
A constant cough that is not due to a cold
A persistent cough that won’t seem to go away could be another symptom of thyroid cancer. Similar to how a nodule may make breathing difficult––it can also irritate the trachea to trigger a need to cough.
The information presented in this article does not substitute as a medical diagnosis. Be sure to check with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.