If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the thyroid and move to other parts of the body.

The precise causes of thyroid cancer are unknown, but certain risk factors have been identified as including having a family history of thyroid cancer, having a bowel condition known as familial adenomatous polyposis and being overweight.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

In its early stages, thyroid cancer tends to cause no or very few symptoms, although the main noticeable symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling at the front of the neck just below your Adam’s apple, which is usually painless. Other symptoms of thyroid cancer only tend to occur after the condition has reached an advanced stage, and may include:

  • Unexplained hoarseness that doesn’t get better after a few weeks
  • A sore throat or difficulty swallowing that doesn’t get better
  • Pain in your neck

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

Your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Because the symptoms of thyroid cancer tend not to appear until the disease has progressed, it is vital that diagnosis is swift and accurate. Tests may include:

  • A thyroid function test, where a blood test is used to check whether the swelling in your neck is caused by other problems with your thyroid gland
  • Fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) which is where a small needle is inserted into the lump in your neck to allow a tiny sample of cells to be removed. The sample is then studied under a microscope
  • An ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves to look inside the body and produce live images on a computer display
  • An MRI scan is a procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body
  • A CT scan which shows a 3D image of the area being looked at

Treatment of thyroid cancer

Patients with thyroid cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Treatment could involve:

  • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy)
  • Radiotherapy which is where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
  • Biotherapy which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease