Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include swelling or a lump in the neck, pain, voice changes, and more. However, benign conditions can also cause many of these symptoms.

Lumps in the thyroid area can result from an enlarged thyroid gland, called a goiter. However, if a person has any symptoms of thyroid cancer, they should contact a doctor. The doctor will be able to order tests to confirm the diagnosis, and advise on treatments to help manage symptoms.

In some cases, a person may not have any symptoms of thyroid cancer. Doctors may discover the condition incidentally during a physical examination or when ordering imaging tests for other reasons.

This article looks at some of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer in detail.

A person with an enlarged thyroid, which is a thyroid cancer symptom. -1Share on Pinterest
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A lump or swelling in the neck is a common symptom of thyroid cancer.

A lump from thyroid cancer may:

  • grow quickly
  • grow larger over time
  • feel firm
  • be not easy to move around under the skin

A thyroid cancer lump is usually painless. However, neck pain can be another sign of thyroid cancer. A person may feel pain in the front of the neck that radiates up to their ears.

It is important to note that, while a neck lump may be due to thyroid cancer, it is more often due to another condition. Other possible causes include goiter, nodular thyroid disease, and subacute thyroiditis.

If a person notices a lump in their deck, it is important to contact a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

As a tumor in the thyroid grows, it may cause hoarseness or other changes to a person’s voice.

When a person’s voice becomes hoarse, it takes on a lower, raspy pitch and can indicate problems in the vocal cords and throat. It is often a sign of laryngitis, or inflammation in the larynx, the voice box which contains the vocal cords.

However, it can also be a symptom of thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer can affect the nerves that control the movement of the vocal cords, which can change a person’s voice.

Doctors typically regard long lasting voice changes as a serious symptom, as it may also indicate problems in a person’s airway. It is important to contact a doctor if a person experiences persistent or recurrent changes in their voice.

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can refer to difficulty swallowing certain foods and liquids. It is a possible symptom of thyroid cancer.

Difficulty swallowing could lead to:

  • bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • choking or coughing when drinking or eating
  • a feeling of food becoming stuck in the throat or chest
  • drooling
  • weight loss
  • chest infections

A growing tumor in the thyroid gland may press against the throat, making it difficult for a person to swallow comfortably. A person may also experience pain when swallowing.

However, there are other possible causes of dysphagia, which include:

A tumor in the thyroid may also press against the trachea (windpipe) as it grows and compress a person’s airways. This can cause difficulty breathing.

As the esophagus is soft and the trachea has protective cartilaginous rings, airway compression will not happen before dysphagia.

A persistent cough not due to a cold could be a symptom of thyroid cancer.

This is especially true if a person also has other symptoms, such as a lump or swelling in their neck, changes to their voice, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.

A person should contact a doctor if they develop a cough unrelated to a known condition, such as asthma, especially if it does not respond to over-the-counter remedies such as cough medication.

Here are answers to some questions people frequently ask about the symptoms of thyroid cancer.

How long can you have thyroid cancer without knowing?

A person may have had thyroid cancer for a long time without symptoms. How long a person can have thyroid cancer without noticing it can depend on various factors, including the stage and type of thyroid cancer.

The most common type of thyroid cancer is papillary thyroid cancer, which accounts for 8 out of 10 cases. Papillary thyroid cancer is slow-growing and may develop for some time before a person notices symptoms such as a lump.

Medullary thyroid cancer, which accounts for around 4% of cases of thyroid cancer, often spreads to other areas of the body, such as the lungs and lymph nodes, before doctors diagnose it.

Are thyroid cancer symptoms different in males and females?

Symptoms of thyroid cancer may be the same in individuals regardless of sex. The size of thyroid tumors in males may be larger than in females, which could contribute to more severe symptoms.

Doctors diagnose thyroid cancer in females more often than in males. However, males tend to receive a worse prognosis than females.

Is thyroid cancer fully curable?

Doctors cure many cases of thyroid cancer. About 9 in 10 people survive for at least 5 years from the time of their diagnosis, with most having a typical lifespan.

However, this can depend on the subtype of thyroid cancer. For example, a rare type called anaplastic thyroid cancer generally has a poor prognosis.

A person should discuss their individual outlook with a doctor.

Learn more about thyroid cancer survival rates.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer may include a lump or swelling in the neck, pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and voice changes. However, thyroid cancer does not always cause symptoms, and doctors may discover it when testing for other conditions.

As symptoms can result from many other benign conditions, such as a cold or infection, a person should contact a doctor if they have any of the symptoms of thyroid cancer. The doctor can order tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.