About Thyroid Cancer

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Thyroid cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the thyroid gland.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of thyroid cancer:

  • A lump (nodule) in the neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble or pain when swallowing
  • Hoarseness

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about thyroid cancer from the National Cancer Institute. 

Image of the Thyroid

anatomical drawing of the thyroid

Anatomy of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland lies at the base of the throat near the trachea. It is shaped like a butterfly, with the right lobe and left lobe connected by a thin piece of tissue called the isthmus. The parathyroid glands are four pea-sized organs found in the neck near the thyroid. The thyroid and parathyroid glands make hormones.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the cancer, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for thyroid cancer: 

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Watchful waiting

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Head and Neck Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for people with these cancers. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of head and neck cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

Find a Thyroid Cancer Doctor

Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

The chance of getting thyroid cancer is most common in people between 25 and 65 years old. These are other risk factors:

  • A personal history of thyroid cancer or other thyroid disease
  • A family history of thyroid cancer
  • A history of a goiter
  • Exposure to radiation to the head and neck as an infant or child, or radiation from an atomic bomb
  • Having certain genetic conditions
    • Familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC)
    • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A syndrome (MEN2A)
    • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B syndrome (MEN2B)
  • Being Asian
  • Being female

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about cancer screenings.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Thyroid Cancer

Doctors use these tests to diagnose thyroid cancer:

  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Laboratory tests: Through testing body tissues, blood, urine, or other substances in the body, your health care team can check to see how the thyroid gland and other organs are functioning. They can also look for substances that cells produce when cancer is present.
  • Imaging tests: Using dyes, x-rays, magnets, radio waves, and/or computer technology, your health care provider can create detailed images of internal organs. Your health care provider may inject or have you swallow a dye to help see the images.
  • Biopsy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.
  • Ultrasound: This procedure uses high-energy sound waves to create a picture of the thyroid gland.

Stages of Thyroid Cancer

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread within or around the thyroid or to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

Staging of thyroid cancer depends on the type of thyroid tumor, age, size of tumor, and distance the cancer has spread. These are the stages used for thyroid cancer:

  • Stage 0
  • Stage I
  • Stage II
  • Stage III
  • Stage IV (IVA, IVB, IVC)

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if thyroid cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually thyroid cancer cells. The disease is metastatic thyroid cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about stages of thyroid cancer from the National Cancer Institute.