Pamela Miller, Contributor
Thyroid Nation

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped nodule found in the neck just under the Adam’s apple. This organ is the largest in the endocrine system, a system of glands responsible for releasing hormones such as triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) that control necessary body functions. Thyroid cancer is characterized by malignant growth resulting from the division of abnormal thyroid cells. The disease is not very common in the United States — 95% of reported nodule growths turn out to be benign and not cancerous. In addition, most thyroid cancers are very treatable. However, the disease shows very few symptoms so it takes a bit of time to diagnose.

Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

As thyroid cancer grows, it presses against nearby organs and tissues, causing these symptoms:

 Changes in the voice, such as prolonged hoarseness

 Constant cough not caused by colds or other infections

 Difficulty in breathing and swallowing

 A growing lump in the neck that can be felt through the skin

 Neck and throat pain that sometimes spreads to the ears

81n0SEww0lL Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Many of these symptoms can also be caused by non-cancerous thyroid disorders. Still, it is important to immediately identify and address thyroid problems, so you should talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Thyroid cancer can sometimes be detected by a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. The disease can also be diagnosed by extracting the thyroid and having a pathologist examine it under a microscope. Risk factors linked to thyroid cancer are limited to iodine deficiency, a history of radiation to the head and neck, and family history of endocrine tumor syndrome.

Types of Thyroid Cancers

The most common, papillary cancer, accounts for 75 to 85% of thyroid cancer cases. It occurs more frequently in women and is the predominant cancer type in children with thyroid cancers. A typical papillary cancer is very slow growing, but it can sometimes metastasize to the surrounding lymph nodes. Fortunately, this does not affect prognosis and patients can still live healthy, normal lives.

Follicular and Hurthle cell cancers are the second most commonly occurring type of thyroid cancer. They make up about 5% of all reported cases. Follicular cell cancer can spread through blood vessels and other organs like the lungs. Hurthle cell cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, but is less likely to do so compared to papillary cancer.

Medullary cancer accounts for 3% of all thyroid cancer cases. The abnormal cells for this type of cancer originate from the parafollicular cells (C cells) that produce the thyroid hormone calcitonin. Patients with this disease also suffer from diarrhea, in addition to the usual symptoms.


Anaplastic cancers are rare, aggressive, and exhibit rapid growth. These only account for 1% of thyroid cancer cases, but they have a high recurrence rate and low survival rate. Anaplastic cancer cannot be cured by surgery, so complete removal of the thyroid cannot prolong the patient’s life. Once the cancer cells metastasize to the lymph nodes, the patient will need a tracheostomy or gastrostomy.

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About the Author

Pamela-MillerPamela Miller works as a marketing manager for Saint John’s Health Center. She contributes health and wellness articles to different websites. She also actively participates in helping cancer patients in her community.

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