All About Thyroid Cancer

Woman holding her throat

August 12, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Danielle E. Lann, M.D.
Michael C. Sullivan, M.D.

The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. It produces hormones that are critically important to ensuring many other body systems function appropriately.

Some thyroid disorders are related to the volume of thyroid hormone produced. Hypothyroidism (too little hormone) and hyperthyroidism (too much hormone) are both common endocrine disorders that require medical management. Many adults also develop growths within their thyroid, called nodules, which can be a source of thyroid cancer.

Disease Prevalence

The prompt diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease is increasingly recognized as being critical to a patient’s overall well-being. Among these diseases is thyroid cancer, which the American Cancer Society predicts will effect more than 52,000 new people in 2019. In fact, thyroid cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in America, with the likelihood of a patient being diagnosed tripling over the past three decades.

While thyroid cancer can be seen in patients of all ages, it is more frequently seen in young adults and women than many other cancers.

Signs and Symptoms

One of the challenges with thyroid cancer is in its detection: There are often no symptoms. “Thyroid cancer can be silent,” says Michael Sullivan, M.D., an endocrine surgeon with Hackensack Meridian Health.

But as the thyroid enlarges, it may begin to compress the structures surrounding it. Therefore, some people may notice a lump or swelling in the neck, have trouble swallowing or breathing, develop hoarseness or other voice changes, or note a constant cough that is not due to a cold.

Thyroid Cancer Detection

Because symptoms can be scarce, it’s critical to have regular screenings with your primary care physician. A complete exam, at least annually, is your best defense to a number of health problems, including thyroid cancer, Dr. Sullivan says.

Because thyroid cancer is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, there is currently no way to prevent it.

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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