The thyroid gland sits at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It is small but important. It makes hormones (regulating chemicals) that help control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. 

Cancer of the thyroid is not common. Experts don’t know what causes it. However, people who have gotten a lot of radiation (energy from X-rays of the head, neck or chest) have a greater chance of getting thyroid cancer. Women get thyroid cancer more often than men.

Doctors usually find thyroid cancer early, and the treatments work well. Most cases can be cured with surgery and often with radioactive iodine.


At Penn State Cancer Institute, we diagnose and treat all types of head and neck cancers, including thyroid cancer. Our multidisciplinary team is made up of surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, and pathologists. We guide you through every step of your care.

Our surgeons may treat your cancer with complex or simple surgery, as needed. Your treatment may include radiation and/or chemotherapy.

Our surgeons take part in conferences with other cancer specialists. We discuss the specifics of your case and putting all our skill and experience together to create a treatment plan just for you.

If needed, we can also improve your appearance after surgery with state-of-the-art head and neck reconstruction.

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Prevention and Screening

Doctors aren't sure what causes most cases of thyroid cancer, so we don’t know how to prevent it in people without much risk for the disease. 

We do know that people with certain inherited disorders have a greater chance of getting it. So do those who have gotten a lot of radiation to the head, neck or chest. People who have always eaten a diet low in iodine are also at risk. Other risk factors include a family history of thyroid cancer and chronic goiter (enlarged thyroid). 


There is no recommended screening test to find thyroid cancer early. Doctors find most early thyroid cancers when patients ask them to look at a neck lump. If you have a lump or swelling in your neck, you should see your doctor right away in case it is cancerous.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Thyroid cancer is a cancer that starts in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located inside the front of your lower neck.


Lumps in the thyroid are common and mostly noncancerous. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • A lump in the neck that sometimes grows quickly
  • Changes to your voice, hoarseness that persists
  • Pain and swelling in the neck or throat
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • A constant cough that is not from a cold


First, your doctor will study your medical history and give you a physical exam. If you have a lump on your neck that your doctor suspects is cancer, he or she may test it with:

  • Ultrasound
  • Radioiodine scan
  • Additional imaging tests such as an X-ray, a CT scan and an MRI to see if cancer has spread to surrounding areas, or a PET scan to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Biopsy

When discovered early, most cases of thyroid cancer can be cured.

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