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Thyroid cancer symptoms

Men and woman discussing thyroid cancer

This page tells you about the symptoms of thyroid cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Thyroid cancer symptoms

The symptoms of thyroid cancer can include a lump in your neck, a sore throat, a hoarse voice, or difficulty swallowing, that last for more than a few weeks.

These symptoms are more likely to be caused by other illnesses, such as a throat infection. But if you have a hoarse voice or a sore throat for more than 3 weeks, you should see your doctor.

Only about 1 in 20 thyroid lumps are cancer. Cancerous thyroid lumps are not usually painful. But you need to get any lump checked by your doctor, especially if it suddenly gets bigger.

Medullary thyroid cancer can cause unusual symptoms, such as frequent loose bowel movements or becoming red in the face.

 

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Common symptoms of thyroid cancer

The symptoms of thyroid cancer can include

  • A lump at the base of your neck
  • A hoarse voice that lasts for more than a few weeks
  • A sore throat or difficulty swallowing that does not get better
  • A lump elsewhere in your neck

Thyroid lumps are very common. It is not unusual for older people to have small lumps in their thyroid glands called nodules. As many as 9 out of 10 women over the age of 70 will have these. Only about 1 in 20 thyroid lumps are cancer. An enlarged thyroid gland that is not cancer is sometimes called a goitre.

Cancerous thyroid lumps are not usually painful. But you still need to get a painful lump checked out by your doctor. You should also see your doctor if a lump that has been previously checked out suddenly gets bigger. All these symptoms are more likely to be caused by illnesses other than cancer. A hoarse voice or sore throat is more likely to be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. But if the hoarseness or soreness stays for more than 3 weeks, you should ask your doctor about it.

If you had radiotherapy to your neck area as a child – for example, for Hodgkin lymphoma – you should always have any lumps in your neck area checked by a doctor. If you had radiotherapy as a child, there is a 1 in 3 risk of any thyroid lump being cancerous.

 

Unusual symptoms

Sometimes, with medullary thyroid cancer, you may have unusual symptoms such as frequent loose bowel movements or going red in the face (flushing). These symptoms are caused by a hormone called calcitonin. Calcitonin is made by the medullary thyroid cancer cells. So, although it is a perfectly normal substance to find in the bloodstream, you may have too much of it and that is what causes these symptoms.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

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Updated: 9 April 2013