Thyroid cancer: Lump, swelling and pain in neck are all warning signs to spot

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Each year, around 2,700 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the UK. It’s most common in people aged 35 to 39 years and in those aged 70 years or over. Women are two to three times more likely to have thyroid cancer than men. The neck can hold many clues to a person’s risk of developing the disease and if experiencing any of these three signs, it could mean you’re at risk.

Cancer in the thyroid occurs in the cells of a person’s thyroid.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland which is located at the base of the neck just below a person’s Adam’s apple.

The thyroids job is to produce hormones which help regulate the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and a person’s weight.

Thyroid cancer might not cause any symptoms at first, however as it grows it can cause pain three warning signs found in the neck.

The American Cancer Society said: “Thyroid cancer can cause any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears.”

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In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, the effect of neck dissection on quality of life in patients with thyroid cancer was investigated. 

The study noted: “Lymph nodes in the lateral neck and posterior triangle may be involved by differentiated thyroid cancer.

“Patients with differentiated thyroid cancer have an excellent survival rate.

“As a general they also have a good prognosis.

“Cervical lymph node metastases occur in 30 percent to 80 percent of these and are associated with a significant probability for loco-regional recurrence of the disease, even in low-risk patients.”

Other warning signs of thyroid cancer include:

Hoarseness occurs when cancer spreads along the nerve that controls the vocal cords which run alongside the trachea and this can affect the quality of a person’s voice.

Coughing occurs due to thyroid cancer which can sometimes cause a persistent cough. A person should see their doctor if they have a cough that’s unrelated to a cold or one that doesn’t go away.

Trouble swallowing occurs if a thyroid tumour becomes large enough it then presses on the oesophagus which makes swallowing difficult.

Shortness of breath is similar to trouble swallowing and occurs if a thyroid tumour is large enough it then pushes against the windpipe and interferes with a person’s breathing.

Causes and risk factors for thyroid cancer

The exact reason nodules grow in the thyroid gland is not known, however certain factors increase a person’s risk, and these include:

Family History. If a parent or sibling had a thyroid nodule, the chance of developing a nodule is increased

Age. The risk of developing a nodule increases as you age.

Gender. Women develop nodules more often than men

Thyroiditis. Nodules are more likely to form in people who have chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland.

Radiation exposure to the head or neck.

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