Thyroid cancer arises in the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. Symptoms in females may include swelling, painless lumps, and difficulty swallowing. However, thyroid cancer is often asymptomatic.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower part of the throat. It is part of the endocrine system and uses iodine to make several different hormones that control body processes, such as:

Many people develop benign (noncancerous) growths of thyroid cells that may cause a painless lump. Generally, these abnormal growths do not cause symptoms or require treatment.

However, in rare cases, these collections of cells grow and divide uncontrollably, resulting in thyroid cancer.

Females are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than males.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates around 43,720 people will receive a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2023. Doctors do not know the exact cause of thyroid cancer but think it is due to genetic changes inside the thyroid cells.

This article explains what thyroid cancer symptoms look like in females, when to call a doctor, and the outlook.

person touching neckShare on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

There are four types of thyroid cancer:

Of these four types, papillary and follicular thyroid carcinoma are most common in females. Medullary thyroid carcinoma usually runs in families, and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma is more common in people over 60.

These are primary thyroid cancers, but there may also be secondary cancers from metastasis.

During the early stages of the disease, thyroid cancer may cause minimal or no symptoms.

However, it commonly causes a painless lump or swelling at the lower front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple.

Once the disease has reached a more advanced stage, a person may experience:

In rare cases, thyroid cancer can affect thyroid hormone production, which can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and flushing.

Thyroid cancer symptoms tend to be the same for both sexes.

A study from 2021 found that females were over four times as likely as males to receive a diagnosis of small papillary thyroid cancer during their lifetime, but this type of cancer is rarely fatal.

The researchers found that the occurrence of aggressive and often fatal types of thyroid cancer was almost equal in males and females.

Additionally, they found no significant difference between the sexes in relation to small papillary thyroid cancers discovered during autopsies, which doctors had not detected during the person’s life.

The researchers noted that females are more likely to seek medical care than males and more likely to undergo testing for undefined health issues causing symptoms like fatigue and menstrual disturbance.

Learn more about the symptoms of thyroid cancer here.

It is important to speak with a doctor if a person experiences any potential symptoms of thyroid cancer.

A painless lump in the front of the neck rarely means a person has thyroid cancer. However, getting an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible can help ensure the best outcome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, for every 100,000 females in the United States, 17 received a diagnosis of thyroid cancer and 1 died. In contrast, 6 males received a thyroid cancer diagnosis and 1 died for every 100,000 males in the same year.

According to Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, approximately 9 in 10 people live for at least 5 years following a thyroid cancer diagnosis. Doctors refer to this as the 5-year relative survival rate.

Thyroid cancer has one of the highest 5-year relative survival rates. With treatment, many people with thyroid cancer will live as long as someone without thyroid cancer.

However, the 5-year relative survival rates vary by type of thyroid cancer.

For instance:

  • around 9 in 10 people with papillary carcinoma and follicular carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis
  • about 7 in 10 people with medullary thyroid carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis
  • approximately 0.5 in 10 people with anaplastic thyroid carcinoma live at least 5 years after diagnosis

Learn more about cancers with the highest 5-year relative survival rate.

Does thyroid cancer show up in blood work?

Blood tests are not used to diagnose thyroid cancer. However, testing for the following may indicate whether a person’s thyroid gland is functioning properly:

What are the 4 signs of thyroid cancer?

The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump in the lower front part of a person’s neck.

Other symptoms may include:

  • hoarse voice
  • sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • pain in the front of the neck

Females and males with thyroid cancer experience the same symptoms. However, females are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer.

In the early stages of the disease, symptoms include a painless lump or swelling below the Adam’s apple. People may experience other symptoms as the disease develops, including hoarseness and pain.