Thyroid cancer symptoms

The most common symptoms are:

  • a lump (nodule) in the thyroid or lower neck area
  • a hoarse voice
  • difficulty in swallowing
  • difficulty in breathing, especially when sleeping.

Lumps and swellings in the thyroid gland are very common. Usually these are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Nevertheless, it is important to get any lump or swelling investigated immediately.

Thyroid cancer diagnosis

Your GP will examine your child, carry out thyroid blood tests and refer you to the hospital to see a specialist for further tests. These tests may include:

  • A fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC): This is also known as a fine needle biopsy. It involves inserting a very thin needle into the thyroid (usually under local anaesthetic) and removing some cells from the lump. These are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

In most cases the test confirms that the lump is benign. In some cases the biopsy will show that there is thyroid cancer present. Sometimes the biopsy does not give a definite answer and there may have to be additional tests or a repeat of the biopsy.

  • A thyroid ultrasound scan: This locates any solid lumps or cysts. An ultrasound scan alone cannot usually show whether the lump is cancerous but it can help doctors interpret the results along with a FNAC.

Thyroid cancer treatment

The type of treatment your child is given depends on the type of cancer and the stage at the time of diagnosis.

Your child will usually be treated by members of an Ear, Nose and Throat or Thyroid Cancer Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT). They will get treatment from different specialists at different times. This may involve travelling to a suitably experienced centre. The MDT will normally consist of an endocrinologist, a surgeon, an oncologist (or nuclear medicine specialist), with support from a pathologist, medical physicist, biochemist, radiologist and specialist nurse, all with a special interest in thyroid cancer. There should also be a paediatric endocrinologist, a paediatric oncologist and a nurse counsellor.

There are two main types of treatment: surgery and radioactive iodine ablation.