About thyroid cancer

There are different types of thyroid cancer.

It is important to remember that thyroid cancer can often be successfully treated. Most young people are completely cured.

Types of thyroid cancer

There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary is the most common type of thyroid cancer. It is usually slow-growing.
  • Follicular is a less common type. It is also usually slow-growing.
  • Medullary is a rare type of thyroid cancer. It sometimes runs in families.
  • Anaplastic is another rare type of thyroid cancer. It usually affects older people.

Papillary and follicular thyroid cancer are the most common types in teenagers and young adults.

Rarely, other types of cancer are found in the thyroid gland. For example, lymphoma or other cancers that have spread from another part of the body.

We have more information about thyroid cancer. It has been written for all age groups.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer

The first symptom of thyroid cancer is usually a painless lump or swelling in the front of the neck that gradually gets bigger.

Less common symptoms are:

  • a hoarse voice that doesn't get better
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • swollen glands (lymph nodes) in your neck.

If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to see your GP. They will be able to talk to you about your symptoms. If they think the symptoms could be because of cancer, they can arrange some tests to find out more.

Remember, these symptoms can happen for lots of reasons other than cancer.

Causes of thyroid cancer

We don’t know exactly what causes thyroid cancer, but research is looking into this.

Some things called risk factors increase your chance of developing cancer. But having these does not mean you will get cancer. The main risk factors for thyroid cancer are:

Family history

Your risk of developing thyroid cancer is increased if you have a close relative (parent, brother, sister or child) with thyroid cancer. Even with this, your risk is still quite small because thyroid cancer is rare.

Genes

Genes are the biological information in each cell that we inherit from our parents. Genes affect the way we look (for example, our eye colour) and how our bodies grow and work. Some rare genetic conditions that run in families can increase the risk of thyroid cancer. But fewer than 1 in 10 cases of cancer are caused by an inherited faulty gene.

Radiotherapy

If you were exposed to radiation or had radiotherapy to the neck when you were younger, you may have a higher risk of developing thyroid cancer many years later.

Back to Thyroid cancer

The thyroid

The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck, just below the voicebox (larynx).