Thyroid Cancer – Symptoms, Causes and risk factors

thyroid cancer

This type of cancer happens in the cells of the thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that is located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. The thyroid is producing hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. At first, thyroid cancer may not cause any symptoms.

But, as thyroid cancer grows, it can cause pain and swelling in your neck. There are several types of thyroid cancer that exist. Some thyroid cancers grow very slowly and others can be very aggressive. In most cases, thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment. Nowadays, thyroid cancer rates are increasing [1]. Some doctors believe that this is possible due to technology because nowadays they can find very small cancers which have not been found in the past.

thyroid cancer

Typically, this type of cancer does not cause any signs or symptoms early in the disease. As thyroid cancer grows, it can cause different symptoms, such as:

  1. Pain in the neck and throat
  2. A lump (also known as nodule) that can be felt through the skin on your neck
  3. Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  4. Changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness
  5. Difficulty swallowing
  6. If you have some of these symptoms and they worry you, then you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.



It is not known what the reason for thyroid cancer is. This type of cancer happens when cells in your thyroid undergo genetic changes (known as mutations). These mutations allow the cells to grow and multiply rapidly. These cells also lose the ability to die, as normal cells would. These accumulating abnormal thyroid cells are forming a tumor. These abnormal cells can invade nearby tissue and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Types of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is classified into types based on the kind of cells which are found in the tumor. Here are types of thyroid cancer:

Medullary thyroid cancer

This type of cancer begins in thyroid cancer cells called C cells, which are producing the hormone calcitonin. The elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate medullary thyroid cancer at a very early stage. Some genetic syndromes are increasing the risk of medullary thyroid cancer, but the genetic link is uncommon. [2]

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

This is a rare type of thyroid cancer that begins in the follicular cells. This type of cancer grows rapidly and is very difficult to treat. This type of cancer happens typically in people who are 60 years old and older. [3]

Follicular thyroid cancer

This is a rare type of cancer that begins in the follicular cells of the thyroid. Usually, this cancer affects people that are older than 50. Hurthle cell cancer is rare cancer and it is a potentially more aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.

Papillary thyroid cancer

This type of thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. This type of cancer arises from follicular cells, which are producing and store thyroid hormones. This type of thyroid cancer can happen at any age, but most often it affects people between 30 and 50. Some doctors are referring to papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer together as different thyroid cancer.

Other rare types

There are other very rare types of cancer that start in the thyroid and they include thyroid lymphoma, which begins in the immune system cells of the thyroid, and thyroid sarcoma, which begins in the connective tissue cells of the thyroid.

Risk factors

There are some factors that can increase the risk of getting thyroid cancer, such as:

Certain inherited genetic syndromes

Some genetic syndromes that can increase the risk of getting thyroid cancer include familial adenomatous polyposis, Cowden’s syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasias, and familial medullary thyroid cancer. [4]

Exposure to high levels of radiation

The radiation therapy treatments to the neck and head can increase the risk for thyroid cancer. [4]

Female in high risk group

It is noticed that thyroid cancer happens more often in women than in men. [6]


[1] Davies L, Morris LGT, Haymart M, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology Disease state clinical review: the increasing incidence of thyroid cancer. Endocrine Practice. 2015;21(6):686–96. doi:10.4158/EP14466.DSCR

[2] Taccaliti A, Silvetti F, Palmonella G, Boscaro M. Genetic alterations in medullary thyroid cancer: diagnostic and prognostic markers. Current Genomics. 2011;12(8):618–25. doi:10.2174/138920211798120835

[3] American Thyroid Association. Thyroid Cancer. Retrieved from

[4] Malchoff CD, Malchoff DM. The genetics of hereditary nonmedullary thyroid carcinoma. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2002;87(6):2455-9.

[5] Sinnott B, Ron E, Schneider AB. Exposing the thyroid to radiation: A review of its current extent, risks, and implications. Endocrine Reviews. 2010;31(5):756–73. doi:10.1210/er.2010-0003

[6] Rahbari R, Zhang L, Kebebew E. Thyroid cancer gender disparity. Future Oncology. 2010;6(11):1771–9. doi:10.2217/fon.10.127


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