Thyroid cancer

A few different types of cancer start in the thyroid – a gland just above your collarbones in your neck which produces hormones. Find out more about the symptoms to look out for, how it’s diagnosed and what treatment is available.

  • A few different types of cancer start in the thyroid
  • Treatment for thyroid cancer has a high success rate
  • Some common symptoms are a sore throat or hoarse voice, or a lump in your neck
  • Thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed with a blood test, scans or a biopsy
  • Treatment depends on the type of thyroid cancer and the stage, but usually involves surgery and a combination of chemotherapy or radiotherapy
     

What is thyroid cancer?

A few different types of cancer start in the thyroid – a gland just above your collarbones in your neck which produces hormones.

The most common type is called papillary carcinoma, which tends to affect younger people, especially women.

Treatment for thyroid cancer has a high success rate. But it’s still really important to get checked out if you have any symptoms you’re worried about.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?

Some signs of thyroid cancer can be:

  • a sore throat or hoarse voice that lasts for several weeks, or if swallowing is painful for that amount of time
  • if you feel a lump in your neck (and especially in the base of your neck)

It’s always best to check if you have any of these symptoms, or you notice anything weird. Remember that thyroid lumps can happen, but most aren’t cancerous. And some of these other symptoms can have other causes too.

If you’ve had radiotherapy to your neck, you’re at a higher risk of getting thyroid cancer. So your radiotherapy doctor will feel your thyroid gland regularly and arrange blood tests and/or ultrasound scans to check everything is OK.

How is thyroid cancer diagnosed?

Your GP or radiotherapy doctor will take a look at your neck and you’ll have a blood test to see if levels of particular hormones suggest a thyroid problem.

You might then have an ultrasound scan to give doctors a closer look at the lump, if you have one.

And cells might be taken from your thyroid using a needle or in surgery (this is called a biopsy), so they can be examined under a microscope for signs of cancer.

You can find out more in our Getting diagnosed section.

How do you treat thyroid cancer?

There are a few different treatments for thyroid cancer. Which one you are offered will depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have and what stage it is at.

The first step is usually surgery, with all or part of your thyroid removed, along with any nearby glands that show signs of cancer.

Radiotherapy – and in particular a treatment called radioiodine – is also used to kill cancerous cells. If you have radioiodine treatment, you’ll need to go into hospital for a few days. You’ll be given an injection of radioactive iodine and will then stay in a special, lead-lined room until you’re no longer radioactive.

Chemotherapy is also sometimes used for advanced thyroid cancers or if cancer comes back after being treated.

You might be given hormone therapy after your treatment to replace the hormones that the thyroid would normally make.

Find out more about cancer treatments.

The information on this page is more than three years old.

Patient Information Forum - Trusted Information Creator

PIF TICK accredited information

The Patient Information Forum is the UK membership organisation and network for people working in health information and support. The PIF TICK is the UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information.

Find out more