Anatomy of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland lies at the base of the throat near the trachea. It is shaped like a butterfly, with the right lobe and left lobe connected by a thin piece of tissue called the isthmus. The parathyroid glands are four pea-sized organs found in the neck near the thyroid. The thyroid and parathyroid glands make hormones. Click to see a larger diagram.
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Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the thyroid gland, it is called thyroid cancer. Every year, about 12,000 men and 36,000 women get thyroid cancer, and more than 800 men and 1,000 women die from the disease.
What Is the Thyroid?
The thyroid gland (also called simply the thyroid) is located in front of the neck. It looks sort of like a butterfly with one wing on each side of the neck. The thyroid is important in many ways for keeping your body healthy. It sends out certain chemicals (hormones) that help control many activities in the body, such as breathing and pumping blood. The thyroid helps children’s bodies develop as they grow up, including getting taller and putting on muscle. It helps control weight and is also involved in other functions.
What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
Scientists are not completely sure about what causes thyroid cancer, but some things that may make getting thyroid cancer more likely include—
- Getting too much radiation around the neck area, especially when you are young.
- Having certain genetic conditions inherited from parents.
What Are the Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer?
- A lump or swelling on the side of the neck is the most common symptom.
- Having trouble breathing.
- Having trouble swallowing.
- Having a hoarse voice.
These symptoms can also come from other conditions. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. Don’t wait until the symptoms get worse.
How Can I Reduce My Risk for Thyroid Cancer?
To lower the risk of thyroid cancer, avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation, including radiation from medical imaging procedures, especially in young children, and especially around the head and neck.
In the United States in 2013 (the most recent year for which numbers are available)—
- 47,693 people (11,816 men and 35,877 women) got thyroid cancer.*
- 1,850 people (838 men and 1,012 women) died from thyroid cancer.*
- Women are almost three times as likely as men to get thyroid cancer, and white people have higher rates of thyroid cancer than people of other races and ethnicities.
- Among men, white men have the highest rates of getting thyroid cancer (7.7 per 100,000 men), followed by Asian/Pacific Islander men (7.1), Hispanic† men (5.6), black men (3.8), and American Indian/Alaska Native men (3.5).
- Among women, white women have the highest rates of getting thyroid cancer (22.5 per 100,000 women), followed by Asian/Pacific Islander women (21.7), Hispanic† women (20.3), black women (13.9), and American Indian/Alaska Native women (11.8).
*Incidence counts cover about 99% of the U.S. population; death counts cover about 100% of the U.S. population. Use caution when comparing incidence and death counts.
†Hispanic origin is not mutually exclusive from race categories (white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native).
Data source: U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2013 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2016. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/uscs.
- Thyroid Cancer (National Cancer Institute)