Most patients with thyroid cancers have excellent outcomes, especially when treated by physicians with extensive experience and specific expertise with the different varieties of thyroid cancers. Studies have shown that when treated at high-volume academic medical centers, patients have best outcomes. Our multidisciplinary experts are focused on working with our patients as the most important members of the team.

Thyroid Gland Diagram

Thyroid cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the thyroid gland, the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. There are four major types of thyroid cancer

  1. Papillary thyroid cancer: The most common type of thyroid cancer. Usually appears as a neck mass or mass within the thyroid (nodule).
  2. Follicular thyroid cancer: The second most common thyroid cancer. Typically appears in older adults.
  3. Medullary thyroid cancer: A rare type of thyroid cancer that makes up only around 3 percent of thyroid cancer cases.
  4. Anaplastic thyroid cancer: An extremely rare, aggressive form of thyroid cancer. Less than 1 percent of thyroid cancer patients present with this type of cancer.

Causes and Symptoms

In many cases, thyroid cancers have no known cause. In a few cases, exposure to radiation and certain inherited genetic syndromes may play a role. These cancers occur more often in women than men. and most typically in older adults. While many patients have no symptoms at all, symptoms for thyroid cancer may include:

  • Pain in the neck and/or throat
  • A mass or swollen lymph node in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Change in voice/hoarseness
  • Breathing difficulty

Diagnosis

Although some forms are aggressive, most thyroid cancers are slow-growing and indolent. Typically, these cancers are found during routine doctor visits or visits for another condition. As with all cancers, thyroid cancers have the best outcomes when caught and treated early.

While thyroid cancer begins in thyroid nodules, most nodules are not cancerous and do not cause symptoms. Nodules are solid or fluid bumps in the thyroid, and only a small number of nodules prove to be cancerous. Benign thyroid nodules can usually be left alone, but others may require treatment. If you suspect you have a thyroid nodule, make an appointment to be seen by one of our thyroid specialists.

Thyroid cancer typically first appears as a nodule in the neck. For many patients, thyroid cancer is detected by CT (CAT) scans or other imaging studies performed for other health issues. We use the newest technology and methods to accurately diagnose and assess each patient. Thyroid function or blood tests and physical exams are typically done first. In addition, your doctor may order imaging tests, including ultrasound and a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy to collect a small tissue sample for diagnosis. In some cases, your family history may also prompt your doctor to recommend genetic testing.

Learn more about how we diagnose head and neck cancer.

Treatment

Your personalized treatment plan may include:

  • Surgery: The most common treatment is to remove a part of or the entire thyroid gland (partial or total thyroidectomy).
  • Radioactive iodine treatments: This comes as a pill or liquid to swallow, and serves to kill any remaining thyroid cancer cells in the body.
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy (in rare cases)
  • Access to clinical trials and the latest research

Our head and neck cancer team, surgeons and endocrinologists have advanced training in treating these types of cancers and work closely together to ensure each patient has the best care possible. Each week, our cancer specialists hold a cancer conference to review each patient’s case as a team and make recommendations for treatment.

After treatment, we will make sure you get the follow-up care you need.

  • Thyroid hormone replacement therapy: After a thyroidectomy, this medication provides the missing hormones the thyroid used to produce. It could also suppress thyroid-stimulating hormone, which might have caused any remaining cancer cells to grow. After a thyroidectomy, you will take these replacement therapies for the rest of your life.
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Patient support services, like support groups and counseling

Virtual Visits Are Available

Safe and convenient virtual visits by video let you get the care you need via a mobile device, tablet or computer wherever you are. We’ll gather your medical records for you and get our experts’ input so we can offer treatment options without an in-person visit. To schedule a virtual visit, call 1-866-680-0505.

Cancer and the COVID-19 Vaccine

There is currently no data that suggests current or former cancer patients should avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Cancer can weaken your immune system, so we recommend that most patients get the vaccine as soon as possible. 

Nationally Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Froedtert Hospital is nationally ranked in three adult specialties by U.S. News & World Report, including ear, nose and throat. Froedtert Hospital is also recognized as high performing in four adult specialties and 15 procedures and conditions.