Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Written by James Norman MD, FACS, FACE

Thyroid cancer doesn't always have symptoms, so it can be hard to detect and diagnose. In fact, some of the possible symptoms aren't actually caused by thyroid cancer itself. Instead, these symptoms can be caused by a thyroid nodule—and thyroid nodules aren't necessarily cancerous.

We have an article on thyroid nodules so that you can learn more about how these develop, but when it comes to thyroid cancer and thyroid nodules, here's the most important thing to keep in mind: most thyroid nodules are not cancerous. Most adults have thyroid nodules, and as you age, you develop more nodules. Keep in mind that 95% of all thyroid nodules are not cancerous; they are benign1.

However, most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer usually find out first that they have a thyroid nodule. Through further testing, they can be diagnosed with a type of thyroid cancer. There are 4 main types of thyroid cancer: papillary thyroid cancer, follicular thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, and anaplastic thyroid cancer

Learn more about the types of thyroid cancer in our Patients' Guide to Thyroid Cancer.

Initially, though, people may go into the doctor because they notice the following symptoms and signs:

The above symptoms are associated with thyroid nodules of all types, not just cancerous nodules. Since most thyroid cancers develop in thyroid nodules, it's essential to be aware of these symptoms and signs that may point to thyroid cancer. Keep in mind, however, that the majority of thyroid nodules are not cancerous, and most adults will have a thyroid nodule (or even a few of them).

The symptoms of thyroid cancer are hard to detect—and usually the noticeable symptoms are caused not by the cancer itself but by the thyroid nodule where the thyroid cancer is developing. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.


1. Thyroid Nodules page. Cleveland Clinic Web site. August 10, 2006. Accessed February 22, 2010.