Understanding your risk
Like other cancers, your risk depends on many variables including:
- Family history
- Lifestyle behaviors (e.g. smoking)
- General health
At Optum, our oncology department offers comprehensive cancer risk assessments and hereditary cancer genetics evaluation programs to help you identify your risk. Start our online hereditary assessment now ›
Diagnosing thyroid cancer
In most cases, someone with thyroid cancer does not experience any symptoms. It is usually found during a routine neck examination or incidentally during an imaging study of the neck. When the cancer begins to develop, a person may notice a lump in the front of their neck.
If you suspect you may have thyroid cancer, contact your doctor about performing a diagnostic evaluation where they will:
- Discuss your medical history, family history and any symptoms
- Check for abnormal lumps or growths, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
If your provider decides further examination is appropriate, they may perform the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood tests: These test will check the functioning of your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and possibly thyroid hormone levels (T3 and T4).
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to provide a detailed image of the thyroid where your physician can observe its size, as well as the size and characteristics of thyroid nodules that have developed in the gland.
- Biopsy: The only way to definitively detect thyroid is through a biopsy. During this procedure, the doctor will extract a sample of the suspicious tissue. This is usually done as a fine-needle aspiration, where a needle is inserted into the nodule and cells are withdrawn into a syringe. A pathologist in a lab will examine this tissue to determine if the growth is cancerous.
Types of thyroid cancer
- Papillary thyroid cancer: This type of cancer grows in finger-like shapes on the thyroid and tends to spread to lymph nodes. However, the outlook for people who develop this type of cancer is generally good because it grows slowly.
- Follicular thyroid cancer: Follicular cancer affects the follicular cells in the thyroid and is more likely to spread to distant organs than papillary cancer.
- Medullary thyroid cancer: Medullary cancer develops in C cells in the thyroid, which make a hormone that controls the level of calcium in the blood.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: Anaplastic cancer is by far the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer and is often more difficult to treat.
- Thyroidectomy is a surgery to remove half of the thyroid or the whole thyroid and possibly lymph nodes in the neck.
- Thyroid hormone replacement therapy helps maintain normal metabolism rates and stop any remaining cancer cells from growing.
- Radioactive iodine ablation helps to eliminate any remaining thyroid cells.
- Chemotherapy administers chemicals in pill or IV form to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells.
Medical care and help
Contact us if you have any questions.