Thyroid Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Can thyroid cancer be found early?

Many cases of thyroid cancer can be found early. In fact, most thyroid cancers are now found much earlier than in the past and can be treated successfully.

Most early thyroid cancers are found when patients see their doctors because of neck lumps or nodules they noticed. If you have unusual symptoms such as a lump or swelling in your neck, you should see your doctor right away.

Other cancers are found by health care professionals during a routine checkup. The American Cancer Society recommends that doctors do a cancer-related checkup that includes an examination of the thyroid during routine physical exams. Some doctors also recommend that people examine their own necks twice a year to look and feel for any growths or lumps.

Early thyroid cancers are also sometimes found when people have ultrasound tests for other health problems, such as narrowing of carotid arteries (which pass through the neck to supply blood to the brain) or for enlarged or overactive parathyroid glands.

Blood tests or thyroid ultrasound can often find changes in the thyroid, but these tests are not recommended as screening tests for thyroid cancer unless a person is at increased risk, such as because of a family history of thyroid cancer.

People with a family history of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), with or without type 2 multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN 2), might have a very high risk for developing this cancer. Most doctors recommend genetic testing for these people when they are young to see if they carry the gene changes linked to MTC. For those who may be at risk but don’t get genetic testing, blood tests can help find MTC at an early stage, when it may still be curable. Thyroid ultrasounds may also be done in high-risk people.


Last Medical Review: 02/24/2014
Last Revised: 03/20/2014