Thyroid Cancer FAQs

Thyroid cancer has the fastest growing number of new cases among all cancers in both men and women, with approximately 60,220 new cases diagnosed each year. The following are some of Mount Sinai’s patients’ most frequently asked questions about it.

What is the thyroid gland?
Thyroid cancer is cancer of the thyroid gland which is located in the front of the neck and produces thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy and function normally.

What are the types of thyroid cancer?
There are several types of thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type, accounting for about seventy to eighty percent of all thyroid cancers. It can occur at any age and often spreads to the lymph nodes in the neck, but has a high cure rate if caught early. Follicular carcinoma is the second most common type of thyroid cancer and also has a good prognosis if caught early. Medullary thyroid cancer is more likely to run in families and may be diagnosed by genetic testing. The rarest form, known as anaplastic thyroid cancer, quickly invades other parts of the body, is least likely to respond to treatment, and is often fatal.

What causes thyroid cancer?
There is no known cause of thyroid cancer; however, there are several risk factors that increase your chance of developing the disease. People who have a diet low in iodine, who have a family history of thyroid cancer, or who have had exposure of radiation to the head, neck, or chest are at a greater risk. Females over the age of thirty are also more likely to develop the disease than men.

What are the risk factors of thyroid cancer?

  • Being between 25 and 65 years old
  • Being female
  • Exposed to radiation to the head and neck as a child or being exposed to radiation
  • History of goiter (enlarged thyroid)
  • Family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer
  • Certain genetic conditions such as familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC), multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2A syndrome, and multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 2B syndrome

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer?
Of those that do experience symptoms, the most common is a lump or swelling in the neck also called a nodule, which may or may not be painful. Less often, other symptoms include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing and breathing, or a persistent cough unrelated to a cold or other illness.

How is it diagnosed?
Thyroid nodules are usually discovered by a doctor during a physical exam. Cancer is confirmed based on a needle biopsy (fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid) of the nodule or testing a surgically removed nodule Thyroid nodules are very common, and fewer than 1 in 10 are cancerous.

What treatments are available?
Thyroid cancer is primarily treated by a thyroidectomy, or the surgical removal of the thyroid. Radioactive Iodine (RAI) therapy may also be used following surgery to destroy any remaining thyroid cells, cancerous and noncancerous, without affecting the rest of the body. Thyroid cancer patients very rarely need chemotherapy or radiation and if caught early, the prognosis for thyroid cancer is very good.

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Having cancer and beating it with Dr. Teng's help did amazing things for my drive and ambition," says singer Bess McCrary, who released her second album after treatment. Read her story