Thyroid cancer

The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck just below the voicebox (larynx). It is sometimes known as the 'activity' gland because it produces the two main hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These keep the body functioning at its normal rate.

Thyroid cancer is uncommon. Each year, about 2,300 people in the UK are diagnosed with it.

It's more common in women than men, and most women who have thyroid cancer are diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 39. Thyroid cancer in men is more likely to occur above the age of 70. It is rare in children.

There are different types of thyroid cancer, which are divided into four different groups. This is because of the way the thyroid cells look when examined under a microscope.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

In most people, thyroid cancer develops very slowly.

Possible symptoms can be one or more of the following:

  • A painless lump in the neck that gradually gets bigger.
  • A hoarse voice for no reason that doesn't go away after a few weeks.
  • Occasionally, a thyroid tumour may press on the gullet (oesophagus) or windpipe (trachea) and cause difficulty swallowing or breathing.
  • Very rarely, the first symptom of thyroid cancer may be pain in the back (spine) when the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid gland. This is caused by secondary tumours in the back.

It's unusual for thyroid cancer to affect the level of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) in the blood, so symptoms of an over- or under-active thyroid are uncommon.

If you notice a lump in your neck, or any of the above symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. However, most thyroid swellings (or goitres) are benign (non-cancerous).

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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