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Thyroid cancer - Symptoms of thyroid cancer

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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In its early stages, thyroid cancer tends to cause no or very few symptoms.

The main symptom of cancer of the thyroid is a lump or swelling at the front of the neck just below your Adam's apple, which is usually painless. Women also have Adam's apples, but they are much smaller and less prominent than a man's.

Sometimes, the lymph nodes in your neck can also be affected and become swollen. Lymph nodes are small glands that form part of the lymphatic system which filters blood, drains fluid from tissues back into the bloodstream, and helps fight infections.

Other symptoms of thyroid cancer only tend to occur after the condition has reached an advanced stage. These symptoms may include:

  • unexplained hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain in your neck

When to seek medical advice

You should always visit your GP if you develop a swelling or lump at the front of your neck. Although it is unlikely to be the result of thyroid cancer, it is important that you have it investigated, just in case.

About one in 20 swellings or lumps in the neck that are large enough to be felt or seen are due to thyroid cancer. Most cases are caused by non-cancerous swellings called goitres.


goitre is an enlarged thyroid gland. The thyroid gland can become enlarged due to one or more multiple swellings (nodules) within the gland.

Non-cancerous goitres are usually caused by other, less serious problems with your thyroid gland, such as the thyroid gland:

  • producing too much of the triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormones - this is known as having an overactive thyroid gland or hyperthyroidism
  • not producing enough T3 and T4 hormones - this is known as having an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism
Medical Review: September 16, 2012
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