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 symptoms such as a lump or swelling in your neck, you should see your doctor right away.
  • Other thyroid cancers are found by health care professionals during a routine checkup.
  • Early thyroid cancers are also sometimes found when people have imaging tests, such as ultrasounds or CT scans for other health problems.

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 having a family history of thyroid cancer. There is no recommended screening test to find thyroid cancer early for people at average risk.

People with a family history of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), with or without multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (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 and thyroid ultrasounds can help find MTC at an early stage, when it may still be curable.

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Davidge-Pitts CJ and Thompson GB. Chapter 82: Thyroid Tumors. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Thyroid Cancer Treatment. 02/06/2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/thyroid/hp/thyroid-treatment-pdq#_313_toc. on February 20, 2019.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Thyroid Carcinoma. V.3.2018. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/thyroid.pdf on February 20, 2019.

Schneider DF, Mazeh H, Lubner SJ, Jaume JC, and Chen H. Chapter 71: Cancer of the Endocrine System. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.

Last Medical Review: March 14, 2019 Last Revised: March 14, 2019

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