The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck just below the voice box (larynx). It is part of the endocrine system and produces hormones that regulate body functions. Thyroid cancer is not common, but occurs more often in women and after middle age. However there are several types of thyroid cancer with different features and risks:
- Papillary – the most common type of thyroid cancer, it occurs in younger people more often than the other types, grows slowly and is usually cured
- Follicular – a less common type of cancer, usually found in older people, it grows slowly and is usually cured
- Medullary – this is a rare type of thyroid cancer that can be genetic but grows slowly
- Anaplastic – a rare type of thyroid cancer that occurs most commonly in older people, it grows quickly and can be very difficult to treat
- Lymphoma – as part of the endocrine system there is lymph tissue in the thyroid where lymphoma may start. Thyroid lymphomas are usually non Hodgkin lymphomas and may not be slow growing
Things to look out for
The first symptom of thyroid cancer is usually a painless lump in the neck, which gradually gets bigger. Thyroid cancer normally grows very slowly. If the tumour presses on the gullet or windpipe, you may have difficulty swallowing or breathing. Cancer doesn’t usually affect the hormone-producing functions of the thyroid, so symptoms of an under/overactive thyroid do not normally indicate cancer, and most thyroid swellings (goitres) are benign. However, if you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.