Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland. This is a butterfly shaped gland that sits at base of your neck, and controls how quickly different parts of your body work. 

What does it feel like?

You might notice a lump on your neck. It doesn’t usually hurt but it slowly gets bigger. Sometimes this lump might make it difficult for you to breathe or eat. 

How is it diagnosed?

You will normally need to have an ultrasound scan. This is when you lie very still while a special machine takes pictures of the inside of your body. 

You will probably also need a biopsy. This is when the specialist takes part of the lump to look at under a microscope to see whether there are any cancer cells. They will numb the area or put you to sleep so it does not hurt.

Will I need medicine and treatment?

Your treatment will depend on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how much it has grown or spread. Most children will have surgery or radiotherapy. 

Surgery is when you have an operation so that the specialist can take out the whole thyroid gland or the part affected by cancer. You will have an anaesthetic to make you go to sleep so that you don’t feel anything.

Radiotherapy uses invisible laser beams to destroy the cancer while you lie very still on a special bed. You might also take radiotherapy as a drink or pill.

What will treatment feel like?

After your surgery, you’ll probably be given some painkillers so that it doesn’t hurt. You might have changes to the part of your body where you had the operation and it’s common to have a scar, but they often fade over time.

Radiotherapy might make you feel more tired and poorly than usual. It can make you feel a bit sick, change how much you need the toilet and you might lose your hair while you’re on treatment. It can also make your skin a bit red and sore where you are being treated. 

This all might sound a bit scary, but it is very normal and part of helping you get better.

If you are worried, you should talk to your nurse or doctor, or a family member – there are lots of different ways they can help you.

What will happen afterwards?

You will still need to see a specialist for a long time after your treatment. They will check that your body is working properly and that your cancer hasn’t come back. 

Will I get ill again?

If your thyroid gland was taken out, you will need to take tablets every day, to help your body working like before you got poorly. Any other problems depend on lots of different things – some people have difficulties but others have no problems at all. You should talk to your doctor if you are worried. 

Content updated October 2015, next planned review 2018.

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