Thyroid Cancer Types, Symptoms and Testing

While many people survive thyroid cancer, it can be a complicated cancer to diagnose and treat. I’ve covered some information on symptoms, testing and types, below. 

Just like having hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer requires lifelong monitoring, but has a high survival rate. By monitoring it, it helps the patient and their doctor to keep on top of any possible recurrence of the cancer.  Thyroid cancer is two to three times more common in women, compared to men although the cause/s for thyroid cancer, are pretty unknown.

So what should you be looking out for? Some patients with thyroid cancer do not develop any symptoms, whereas others may notice they have a goitre or enlarged thyroid gland.

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Pain in the neck
  • A hoarse voice
  • Enlarged lymph nodes/neck/thyroid
  • Thyroid nodules

If you notice any of these symptoms, and follow this information on how to check your neck for any abnormalities, and find something you’re worried about, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. The above symptoms can be concerning, since quite a big chunk of those with hypothyroidism, will experience some of them anyway. Not everyone with one or two of the above symptoms will have cancer, though, but it’s always worth investigating if you’re concerned.

Now, there isn’t just an overall ‘thyroid cancer’, but actually four different types. These are:

  1. Papillary cancer –  The most common type of thyroid cancer. It tends to involve one side of the thyroid gland, although it sometimes spreads into the lymph nodes too. The survival rate is very high.
  2. Follicular cancer – The second most common type of thyroid cancer.  With this type, the cancer doesn’t usually spread to the lymph nodes, but instead can spread to arteries and veins of the thyroid. It could possibly spread to the lungs, bone, skin etc. Follicular cancer is more common in older people. The survival rate is very high.
  3. Medullary cancer -The third most common type of thyroid cancer. It arises from C cells, which make the hormone calcitonin. This type of thyroid cancer originates in the upper central lobe of the thyroid and it spreads to the lymph nodes much earlier than the two cancers above.  The survival rate is very high.
  4. Anaplastic is the most rare but most serious type of thyroid cancer. It can spread early on to lymph nodes and it is most likely to spread to other organs, too. It is more common in those over 65 and in men. Survival rates are quite a bit less than for the other three types of cancer above.


Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of cancer, as well it’s size and the stage it is at. We’re all individual, after all and so are cases of cancer.

  • In most cases of thyroid cancer, the thyroid gland is surgically removed. This is known as a thyroidectomy. After a thyroidectomy, patients require lifelong thyroid medication, to replace what they’re non-existent thyroid is no longer producing for them.
  • Some patients are given radioactive iodine treatment, also known as remnant ablation (sounds scary, I know). This is often given to kill off any thyroid tissue remaining after the thyroid surgery.
  • Some experts recommend that  TSH should be kept level low or undetectable, to help prevent a recurrence of the cancer.

Diagnosis and detection of thyroid cancer typically involves the below.

  • Your doctor should conduct a thorough physical exam, checking for any abnormalities.
  • A fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA) may need to be conducted on nodules or lumps.
  • A nuclear scan, also known as radioactive iodine uptake (RAI-U) scan may be conducted.
  • CT scan, known as computed tomography or a cat scan could be used.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be used.
  • Thyroid ultrasound should be used.
  • When medullary thyroid cancer is suspected, doctors tend to check for high levels of calcium.

Remember, if you suspect anything suspicious or indicative of thyroid cancer or any complications of your health, always get to a doctor as soon as possible for examination.

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:

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