Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the thyroid gland. Cancer metastasis refers to cancer spreading to other parts of the body. How far it has spread can affect treatment.

The thyroid gland produces hormones that support metabolism, blood pressure, and other bodily functions. Thyroid cancer begins in this gland and can spread throughout the body.

Doctors use stages to describe how much cancer cells have metastasized. In earlier stages, thyroid cancer may spread to lymph nodes near the thyroid. In later stages, it may spread to organs and bones in distant regions of the body.

This article examines common sites of thyroid cancer metastasis. Keep reading to learn about where this cancer spreads, how to treat it, and more.

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Thyroid cancer can spread to many different areas of the body, including:

In more advanced cases, thyroid cancer can spread to areas farther away from the thyroid, such as:

  • the bones
  • the brain
  • the liver or lungs, though this is rare

How far thyroid cancer spreads can affect treatment effectiveness. For example, cases that spread to the brain are some of the most difficult to treat.

Read more about thyroid cancer.

Signs that thyroid cancer has metastasized depend on where the cancer has spread. If cancer has metastasized to the bones, it can lead to:

If thyroid cancer spreads to the lungs, it may cause:

Thyroid cancer can also spread to other organs, such as the liver. Signs of this metastasis may include:

  • abdominal pain
  • weight loss
  • overall discomfort

In many cases, people with thyroid cancer may not experience any signs that their cancer has metastasized, making regular check-ups a crucial part of cancer management. Only a medical professional can confirm whether thyroid cancer has spread.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of thyroid cancer should consult a doctor for a diagnostic evaluation. This will typically begin with a physical exam and medical history.

A doctor may also ask questions about a person’s medical history. This helps determine whether someone is at higher risk for thyroid cancer.

If a doctor suspects the presence of thyroid cancer, they will then order imaging tests. These tests allow medical professionals to visualize internal areas of the body. Tests may include:

If an imaging test detects signs of cancer, the next step is a biopsy. This involves removing a small piece of tissue and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. At this point, a doctor may also order blood tests to check for other signs of cancer.

When the results of a biopsy test and scans confirm the presence of cancer, doctors can then determine the cancer’s stage.

Stage 1 thyroid cancer is the least severe form of this disease. During this stage, cancer cells remain within the thyroid.

The most serious stage of thyroid cancer is stage 4. By this stage, cancer cells have spread to distant areas of the body.

Determining the cancer stage helps doctors identify the most effective treatment plan.

The right treatment for metastatic thyroid cancer depends on how far the cancer has spread. If cancer has not advanced beyond the thyroid, surgery to remove the cancer may be sufficient.

If cancer has metastasized to the lymph nodes, a surgeon can also remove the affected nodes. This may be enough to treat milder cases of metastatic thyroid cancer.

Doctors may opt for more intensive treatments in more advanced cases of this disease. Some of the more common treatment options for thyroid cancer include:

People whose cancer does not respond to conventional treatments may also choose to take part in clinical trials. This involves testing out new and emerging treatments before they are widely available to the public.

The chances of recovering from thyroid cancer increase if doctors diagnose this disease early.

People with localized thyroid cancer have the highest chance of making a full recovery. According to data, over 99.5% may survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

Cancer that has metastasized to distant parts of the body decreases a person’s chance of recovery. People with distant thyroid cancer spread have between a 4% and 74% chance of surviving for at least 5 years.

However, factors such as a person’s age, overall health, and type of thyroid cancer can affect individual outlook. It is also important to note that treatments continue to improve, and the statistics above use data from people diagnosed and treated at least 5 years earlier.

Thyroid cancer metastasis can look different for everyone. Identifying and treating metastatic thyroid cancer is also an individualized journey.

Where does thyroid cancer usually metastasize?

Thyroid cancer often spreads to areas close to the thyroid gland. These may include neck muscles or blood vessels, the esophagus, or nearby lymph nodes. In more advanced cases, thyroid cancer may spread to the bones, liver, lungs, or brain.

What is the survival rate of metastatic thyroid cancer?

The survival rate of metastatic thyroid cancer depends on the cancer stage. People who receive an early diagnosis typically have a 99.5% chance of recovering. For people in the more advanced stage, 5-year survival rates range from 4% to 74%.

At what stage does thyroid cancer spread?

In stage 1 thyroid cancer, the tumor remains localized within the thyroid. From stage 2, cancer cells start to spread to nearby tissues. By stage 4, cancer has metastasized to distant regions of the body.

Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland, which produces hormones that support various bodily functions. Without treatment, cancer cells may metastasize or spread to other body parts.

When thyroid cancer cells spread, they may affect lymph nodes, neck tissues, or the esophagus. In advanced cases, cancer can spread to the bones, liver, or other internal organs.

Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on how far cancer cells have metastasized throughout the body. People with early-stage thyroid cancer have the highest chance of responding to treatment.