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What Is Thyroid Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that forms in the thyroid is called thyroid cancer.

Front view of woman's neck turned slightly to the side showing thyroid gland on trachea in neck.

Understanding the Thyroid

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid controls the rate at which every part of the body works. This is called metabolism. The thyroid gland regulates the metabolism by making thyroid hormone, a chemical that carries messages from the thyroid to the rest of the body through the bloodstream.

When Thyroid Cancer Forms

Cells in the thyroid may grow out of control, forming small lumps called nodules. The thyroid may also enlarge (swell). Thyroid cancer can spread from the thyroid to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. In general, the more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer

There are different types of thyroid cancer. You and your health care provider will discuss a treatment plan that is specific to your type of cancer and your personal  needs. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.

  • Radioiodine therapy, which uses radioactive iodine to destroy thyroid cancer cells in the body.

  • External radiation therapy, which uses directed rays of energy to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medications to kill cancer cells.

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Welch, Annette, MNS OCN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/23/2013
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