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Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

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Updated September 18, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Thyroid cancer symptoms usually do not appear in the early stages of the disease. Thyroid cancer is often discovered when a lump or nodule is found during a routine examination. Later, as the cancer progresses, you may experience the following:
  • pain or sensitivity in the neck or throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • hoarseness (constant or may come and go)
  • swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck
  • nodule or lump in the area around the Adam's apple
  • persistent cough or clearing of the throat

Thyroid cancer ymptoms do vary based on the type of thyroid cancer. There are four types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. Thyroid cancer is relatively rare and symptoms are most often caused by another condition, not cancer. For example, many other thyroid diseases produce similar symptoms to thyroid cancer.

Nodules can be a common symptom of thyroid cancer, but not all nodules are cancerous. Only about 5% of thyroid nodules are malignant. If a nodule is discovered during an examination, a thyroid ultrasound is often recommended to learn more about the nodule and whether it has the characteristics of being cancerous.

If cancer is suspected, a thyroid biopsy is needed to confirm or rule out cancer. A special type of biopsy called a fine needle aspiration is done in cases involving the thyroid. In most cases, it is performed in the doctor's office and is painless. Various blood tests are also important in investigating a thyroid nodule.

What to Do If You Have Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

You should see your doctor if you start experiencing any symptoms. The delay in waiting for symptoms to "go away" could affect your treatment options and prognosis. The good news is that while thyroid cancer is the most common type of endocrine cancer, it is the least fatal of all types of cancer. In most cases, it is treatable -- and many times, curable.

Again, many other conditions and diseases cause symptoms similar to that of thyroid cancer. Clearing the throat, hoarseness, coughing and neck pain aren't exclusive to thyroid cancer. More than likely, your symptoms are related to a less serious condition, but it is critical to see your doctor anyway to avoid a delay in diagnosis.

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