5 Common Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Miller, MBChB

Photo Courtesy: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Thyroid cancer affects your thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped organ in your neck. The hormones that your thyroid gland produces help regulate several of your bodily functions. These include your blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism.

Thyroid cancer can be slow-growing, and it may not cause noticeable symptoms in its initial stages. As thyroid cancer progresses, however, there are several significant symptoms that you may begin to notice — and that can alert you to the presence of this disease. Continue reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer.

Notable Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

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The following symptoms are some of the most common that appear with thyroid cancer. If you begin to experience these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns.

  • Neck swelling. The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is swelling or a lump in your neck area surrounding your throat. This symptom is often what causes people to seek medical attention. The swelling or presence of a lump may also make it difficult to swallow.
  • Neck or ear pain. As thyroid cancer progresses, you might experience severe neck pain that also develops in your ears. While neck and ear pain can happen with less severe conditions such as an ear infection, it’s always important to make an appointment with your doctor if these symptoms don’t go away quickly.
  • Changes in your voice. A change to your voice, including hoarseness, is another common symptom of thyroid cancer that often occurs in its later stages. Vocal hoarseness from thyroid cancer isn’t associated with the common cold or flu, and it doesn’t cause respiratory symptoms. If you have hoarseness due to thyroid cancer, you may also experience other vocal changes, such as changes in the pitch or tone of your voice.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck. Swollen lymph nodes in your neck often occur when your body is responding to an illness or infection, so it can be difficult to determine the underlying cause when you don’t have other obvious symptoms. Swollen lymph nodes in your neck can also indicate thyroid cancer, especially if the glands aren’t tender to the touch. If you have persistently swollen lymph nodes, let your doctor know so you can get a diagnosis.
  • Breathing difficulties or noisy breathing. When thyroid tumors grow large enough to press against your windpipe, breathing difficulties and noisy breathing can occur. These symptoms are also associated with a host of conditions ranging from allergies to severe respiratory illnesses. If you’re experiencing breathing difficulties, contact your doctor right away.

Thyroid cancer is a condition that occurs when abnormal cells develop in your thyroid. Doctors don’t understand the specific cause of the condition yet, but experts believe it may be linked to certain genes and risk factors. These include low levels of iodine in your body, your assigned sex at birth and whether or not you’ve had radiation treatments.

Thyroid cancer may not cause symptoms in its early stages. But, as the condition progresses, it can cause a variety of symptoms that you might confuse for other common illnesses and conditions. Early detection of potential thyroid cancer symptoms can help you get immediate treatment for the condition.

Resource Links:

Thyroid cancer Thyroid Cancer: What Women Should Know,” Johns Hopkins Medicine

Thyroid cancer,” NHS

Thyroid cancer – Symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic

Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer,” American Cancer Society

Thyroid cancer – Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment,” BMJ Best Practice