Thyroid Cancer Signs and Symptoms

The Most Common Sign Is a Thyroid Lump or Nodule

Thyroid Cancer Checkup
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Thyroid cancer is the development of cancerous cells in your thyroid gland, a gland that is part of your endocrine system. Your thyroid is located in your neck, and the "wings" of this small, butterfly-shaped gland sit on each side of your trachea (windpipe), near your Adam's apple.

Thyroid cancer, especially early in its development, usually causes no symptoms. Only as thyroid cancer grows, develops, and advances is it more likely to cause noticeable symptoms.

Most Common Sign of Thyroid Cancer

The most common sign of thyroid cancer is a lump or nodule (single or multiple) in your neck, with the most common location being in the front of your neck around your Adam's apple area.

You may not notice or be able to see the lump in your neck, but others may be able to see it or feel it. Actually, it's not uncommon for lumps to be discovered by your doctor, dentist, hairdresser, massage therapist, or partner before you notice them.

Other times, cancerous thyroid nodules are found incidentally during x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, or other imaging tests being performed for other reasons, such as when evaluating neck or head pain, or as a result of having dental x-rays. 

Other Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Some of the other signs and symptoms that may point to the potential for thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Changes to a neck lump or nodule, or rapid growth in a pre-existing thyroid nodule. 
  • Enlargement of your neck, which may be visible, or you may be able to feel.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck, sometimes referred to as "swollen glands." 
  • Pain in your neck or throat, including pain from your neck to your ears. You should see a doctor if you have neck or throat pain that lasts more than a few weeks. 
  • Sensitivity in your neck, such as discomfort with neckties, turtlenecks, scarves, and necklaces.
  • A persistent or a chronic cough that is not due to allergies or a cold.
  • Asymmetry in your thyroid, such as a large nodule on one side, but no nodules or enlargement on the other side.
  • Nodules in your neck that when manipulated, give the impression that the entire thyroid is moving.
  • Nodules that cause your windpipe to go to one side of your neck.

If the thyroid cancer invades the nerve that controls the vocal cords, a person may develop hoarseness and/or difficulty speaking normally. Moreover, if the cancerous thyroid nodule grows big enough to press on the windpipe, it may cause difficulty breathing or wheezing.

Likewise, if the cancer is compressing the esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach), a person may experience difficulty swallowing or a choking feeling when swallowing. 

If You Have Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

If you have any of these thyroid cancer symptoms, you should see your doctor right away for a complete evaluation, including a clinical examination of your thyroid by a trained physician, imaging tests (such as ultrasound or MRI), and often a fine needle aspiration biopsy (called an FNA) of your thyroid gland.

It's important to note that most thyroid nodules are non-cancerous (called benign), but it's still essential to see a doctor so a proper diagnosis and treatment plan can be made.

In addition to an examination, ultrasound, and biopsy, blood tests, genetic tests, thyroid scan, and other tests may also be done to diagnose or rule out thyroid cancer.

A Word from Verywell

The symptoms of thyroid cancer are frequently subtle and can be difficult to detect.

One thing you can do is to regularly check your own neck. Find out how to do an endocrinologist-approved "Thyroid Neck Check" to look for thyroid nodules, lumps, or enlargement yourself at home.

Also, learn more about whether you have any of the common risk factors for thyroid cancer and, if thyroid cancer is suspected, the specific tests and procedures that are used to diagnose thyroid cancer.

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