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Thyroid cancer

​​ ​Cancer that forms in the thyroid is called thyroid cancer.

Marshfield Clinic Cancer Care Specialists diagnose and treat all types of cancer.​

Understanding the thyroid

Front view of woman's neck turned slightly to the side showing thyroid gland on trachea in neck.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in front of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid controls the rate at which every part of the body works. This is called metabolism. The thyroid gland regulates the metabolism by making thyroid hormone, a chemical that carries messages from the thyroid to the rest of the body through the bloodstream. The thyroid also makes the hormone called calcitonin. This regulates how calcium is used in the body. 

When thyroid cancer forms

Cells in the thyroid may grow out of control, forming small lumps called nodules. The thyroid may also enlarge (swell). Thyroid cancer can spread from the thyroid to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. In general, the more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

There are four main types of thyroid cancer (also called thyroid carcinoma):

  • Papillary carcinoma, which is the most common type

  • Follicular carcinoma

  • Medullary thyroid carcinoma

  • Anaplastic carcinoma 

Treatment choices for thyroid cancer

There are different types of thyroid cancer. You and your healthcare provider will discuss a treatment plan that is specific to your type of cancer and your personal  needs. Treatment choices may include:

  • Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland

  • Radioiodine therapy, which uses radioactive iodine to destroy thyroid cancer cells in the body

  • External radiation therapy, which uses rays of energy directed right at the tumor to kill cancer cells

  • Hormone therapy, which blocks or removes the hormones that help the cancer grow

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells throughout the body

  • Targeted therapy, which targets the cancer cells' genes or proteins that allow cancer growth and survival

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If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

Test Your Knowledge of Cancer's Warning Signs

Early detection of cancer is important because it is usually easier to treat—and possibly cure—when caught early. Do you know what signs to look for? Take this quiz to find out more.

1. Any sudden or progressive change in a mole's appearance could be a sign of skin cancer.
2. A new mole or a change in an existing mole may be a sign of skin cancer.
3. One sign of malignant melanoma is a mole with shades of tan, brown, black, or blue.
4. Changes, lumps, or hard masses in the testicles are signs of testicular cancer.
5. A change in bowel habits—blood in the stool or chronic constipation—is a common symptom of stomach cancer.
6. Lumps, hard knots, or a thickening in the breast could mean breast cancer.
7. A nagging cough or hoarseness could be signs of lung cancer.
8. Prostate cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages.
9. Symptoms of mouth or tongue cancer include a sore inside the mouth that doesn't heal and mouth pain that doesn't get better or go away.
10. Bladder cancer has no symptoms.