What You Need to Know About Thyroid Cancer

Plus how to check your neck for cancer or lumps

Female holding throat
Anthony Bradshaw/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

According to the American Cancer Society, 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer (47,230 in women, and 15,220 in men) were diagnosed in the United States in 2015. The likelihood of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer is on the rise and is double than what it was in 1990. 

An estimated 1,950 died of thyroid cancer in 2015. Thyroid cancer is, however, considered one of the least deadly and most survivable cancers, and 5-year survival rates for thyroid cancer are almost 97 percent.

Thyroid cancer is more common in younger people, and nearly two-thirds of those diagnosed with thyroid cancer are between the ages of 20 and 55. Thyroid cancer is more common after the age of 30. The older you get, the more likely the cancer will be aggressive. Women are three times as likely to develop thyroid cancer than men. 

Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers on the rise in recent years, with a growth rate of about 6percent a year since 1997. Many experts believe that the increase is primarily due to greater use of thyroid ultrasound technology, which is better able to detect previously malignant thyroid nodules that, in the past, likely went undetected. Some of the increased rate is, however, due to detection of an increasing number of larger thyroid tumors.

There are four different types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary or mixed papillary-follicular thyroid cancer (About 80 percent of cases)
  • Follicular or Hurthle cell thyroid cancer (About 15 percent of cases) 
  • Medullary thyroid cancer (About 3 percent of cases) 
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer (About 2 percent of cases) 

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer 

Some people with thyroid cancer do not develop any symptoms. Others may notice they have developed a lump at the base of the front of their neck.

Other symptoms may include: 

  • Pain in the neck
  • Enlarged lymph nodes 
  • Swelling
  • Thyroid nodules 
  • Hoarse voice

If thyroid cancer runs in your family, you may want to check your neck for lumps periodically. About 75 percent of the population will develop thyroid nodules at one point. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a nodule. Fewer than 1 percent of these nodules are cancerous. If you feel a lump in the area of your thyroid, make an appointment to see your doctor. 

The Thyroid Neck Check

To underscore the importance of early detection, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) encourages Americans to perform a simple self-exam they call the Thyroid Neck Check. Examining your neck can in some cases help you find lumps or enlargements in the neck that may point to thyroid conditions, including nodules, goiter and thyroid cancer.

To detect a thyroid abnormality early or lumps that may indicate potential thyroid cancer, follow these steps:

1. Stand in front of a mirror
2. Stretch neck back
3. Swallow water
4. Look for enlargement in neck (below the Adam's Apple, above the collar bone)
5. Feel area to confirm enlargement or bump
6. If any problem is detected, see a doctor

The Neck Check does not replace an exam by a medical professional. A thorough examination by a physician is needed to diagnose or rule out thyroid cancer.


National Cancer Institute -- Thyroid Cancer Page

What You Need to Know About Thyroid Cancer, National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society: Thyroid Stastistics/Information

Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association (ThyCa)