4 Signs of Thyroid Cancer You Should Never Ignore
If you’ve noticed these symptoms, you could have thyroid cancer in need of treatment.
The importance of thyroid symptoms you can see
Doctors usually find thyroid cancer when patients are getting ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs for an unrelated reason, but the nodules will rarely cause problems, says Michael Tuttle, MD, an endocrinologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Patients can usually choose to keep an eye on the cancer and make sure it doesn’t get worse rather than getting treatment right away, he says. “I would ignore asymptomatic, millimeter-sized things that you’d only find if you’re looking for it,” he says. “But any signs or anything you can feel in the neck, that would cross over to something you should no longer ignore.” If you have any of these potential thyroid cancer symptoms, ask your doctor if you should get a fine needle aspiration to test for cancer.
Lump in the neck
Men will often find a nodule while shaving, while women might notice one while putting on makeup, says Robert Smallridge, MD, professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida and deputy director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center. About 90 per cent of thyroid nodules are benign, but if you have a large lump in the front of your neck below the Adam’s apple, pay attention to how it acts. “The trick is it moves up and down when you swallow,” Dr. Tuttle says. “Most other lumps don’t move.”
The recurrent laryngeal nerve, which controls the muscles that open and close vocal cords, lies right behind the thyroid. In rare cases, a nodule, particularly a cancerous one, can extend beyond the thyroid, damaging that nerve and affecting your voice box, Dr. Smallridge says. “Most patients describe it as hoarseness,” he says.
A small percentage of people with thyroid cancer will develop a mysterious cough that doesn’t come with any other symptoms typically related to congestion. “A cough from thyroid cancer is not infectious, so people are puzzled and wonder why they’re coughing with no fever and no phlegm,” Dr. Tuttle says.
A nodule that has gotten large enough that you’re having trouble swallowing or breathing could indicate the cancer is aggressive and highly malignant. “It’s rare but worrisome,” Dr. Tuttle says. “It means things have gotten big and are growing.”