Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include swelling or a lump in the neck, pain, voice changes, and others. However, benign conditions can also cause many of these symptoms.

Lumps in the thyroid area can result from an enlarged thyroid gland, called a goiter. However, if a person has any symptoms of thyroid cancer, they should contact a doctor.

This article looks at some of the common symptoms of thyroid cancer in detail.

A person with an enlarged thyroid, which is a thyroid cancer symptom. -1Share on Pinterest
Giorgia Bevegni/EyeEm/Getty Images

A lump or swelling in the neck is a common symptom of thyroid cancer, although a lump in the neck could also be a sign of a less severe condition, such as goiter.

A lump from thyroid cancer may grow quickly and:

  • grows larger over time
  • feels firm
  • is not easy to move around under the skin

These symptoms could also be due to goiter, Hashimoto’s disease, or Graves’ disease. A person should contact a doctor if they experience these signs.

A thyroid cancer lump is usually painless.

However, neck pain can be another sign of thyroid cancer. A person may feel pain in the front of the neck that radiates up to their ears.

As a tumor in the thyroid grows, it may cause hoarseness or other changes to a person’s voice.

When a person’s voice becomes hoarse, it takes on a lower, raspy pitch and can indicate problems in the vocal cords and throat.

Hoarseness is often a sign of laryngitis, or inflammation in the larynx, the voice box which contains the vocal cords.

Thyroid cancer can affect the nerves that control the vocal cords’ movement, which can change a person’s voice.

Doctors typically regard long lasting voice changes as a serious symptom, as it may also indicate problems in a person’s airway.

Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, can refer to a person having difficulty swallowing certain foods and liquids.

Difficulty swallowing could lead to:

  • bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • choking or coughing when drinking or eating
  • a feeling of food becoming stuck in the throat or chest
  • drooling
  • weight loss
  • chest infections

A growing tumor in the thyroid gland may press against the throat, making it difficult for a person to swallow comfortably.

However, there are other possible causes of dysphagia, which include:

A tumor in the thyroid may also press against the trachea (windpipe) as it grows and compress a person’s airways. This can cause difficulty breathing.

Because the esophagus is soft and the trachea has protective cartilaginous rings, airway compression won’t happen before dysphagia.

A persistent dry, hacking cough not due to a cold could be a symptom of thyroid cancer.

This is especially true if a person also has other symptoms, such as a lump or swelling in their neck, changes to their voice, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.

A person should contact a doctor if they develop an unusual cough unrelated to a known condition, such as asthma, that does not respond to over-the-counter remedies such as cough medication.

The below are answers to some questions people frequently ask about the symptoms of thyroid cancer.

How long can you have thyroid cancer without knowing?

The time until a diagnosis can depend on various factors, including the type of thyroid cancer a person has, the stage of cancer, and the symptoms a person experiences.

A person may have had thyroid cancer for a long time without symptoms.

The most common type of thyroid cancer is papillary cancer, which accounts for 8 out of 10 cases.

Papillary thyroid cancer is slow-growing and may develop for some time before a person notices symptoms, such as a lump.

Medullary thyroid cancer, which accounts for around 4% of cases of thyroid cancer, often spreads to other areas of the body, such as the lungs and lymph nodes, before doctors diagnose it.

Are thyroid cancer symptoms different in males and females?

Symptoms may be the same in individuals regardless of sex.

Doctors diagnose thyroid cancer in females more often than in males. However, males tend to receive a worse prognosis than women.

The size of thyroid tumors in males may be larger than in females, which could contribute to more severe symptoms.

Is thyroid cancer fully curable?

Yes, doctors cure many cases of thyroid cancer.

About 9 in 10 people survive for at least 5 years from the time of their diagnosis, with most having a normal lifespan.

However, this depends on the subtype of thyroid cancer. For example, a rare type called anaplastic thyroid cancer has a very poor prognosis.

A person should discuss their individual outlook with a doctor.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer may include a lump or swelling in the neck, pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, voice changes, and more.

These symptoms can result from many other benign conditions, such as a cold or infection.

However, a person should contact a doctor if they have any of the symptoms of thyroid cancer to rule it out, or receive treatment if necessary.