Warning Signs of Thyroid Cancer: Know Your Neck

Assistant Professor, Department of Surgical Oncology

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone has a thyroid gland, and, despite the lack of a screening test for the disease, understanding and recognizing the signs and symptoms is key to catching it early. Thankfully, thyroid cancers that are detected early are highly curable.

The thyroid gland affects many functions in the body - heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. It is located in the lower, front part of the neck and contains two lobes, the left lobe and the right lobe. Like any other cells in the body, the cells in the thyroid gland have the potential to become cancerous.

Signs of cancer in the thyroid are not always obvious. So, it’s important to pay attention to any changes that may occur, such as:

  • Unusual nodules, or bumps, on your neck
  • Persistent hoarseness or other voice changes   
  • Persistent, unexplained cough
  • Pain in the neck or throat
  • Sensitivity in the neck

Anyone who has had prior radiation to the neck could be at higher risk for the disease and needs to be particularly aware of such signs.

Thyroid cancer does tend to occur more in women than men, and men tend to get it at an older age than women. For women, the average age of diagnosis is in the forties or fifties. For men, it’s fifties or sixties.  

I want to emphasize that a nodule in the neck does not mean cancer. In fact, nodules are common and oftentimes are benign and harmless. The only way to diagnose the cancer is to take a biopsy and examine the sample under the microscope.

The most important take away, as we come to the end of thyroid cancer awareness month, is that knowing your body and paying attention to subtle changes in the neck area could help you catch a serious problem before it’s too late.

For a more in-depth discussion of thyroid cancer with Dr. Kumar and Dr. David Cohan, Assistant Professor of Oncology in RPCI’s Department of Head and Neck Surgery/Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, listen to the podcast of our September 23rd Roswellness Radio Show.