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Six Common Thyroid Cancer Symptoms + Which Lab Tests You’ll Need

Spotting the Signs: Understanding Thyroid Cancer Symptoms and the Essential Lab Tests for Early Detection
January 24, 2024
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Did you know that women are diagnosed with three of every four thyroid cancers?

About two-thirds of cases are in people ages 20 and 55, and some are more at risk than others for developing thyroid cancer.

Unfortunately, it can be challenging to self-diagnose thyroid cancer because it doesn’t trigger noticeable signs or symptoms at first.

Whether you’re a female between the ages of 20 and 55, have a family history of thyroid cancer, or are experiencing some troublesome symptoms, we can help. Here’s expert information about symptoms, and the proper lab tests you can order today to find out for sure.

Picture of a woman holding her thyroid gland, signifying the need for lab tests to detect and diagnose symptoms of thyroid cancer
Empowering Awareness: Unveiling the Lab Tests for Six Common Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

Six Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

As this type of cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  1. A lump or nodule that can be seen or felt in the neck
  2. Hoarseness or other voice changes
  3. Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  4. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  5. Pain in the neck or throat
  6. Coughing that is not related to the common cold

Which Lab Tests You Need to Identify Thyroid Cancer

Today, it's easier than ever to order lab tests without seeing your doctor first.

These are the ones we recommend for detecting thyroid cancer:

Our tests are convenient, affordable, and confidential. Doctor’s orders are never required.

If you’re experiencing any worrisome thyroid cancer symptoms or signs, order a thyroid test and then schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.

Symptoms can include any changes you feel inside your body, like those listed above. Signs include any changes you can measure, like blood pressure or lab results. Together these signs and symptoms can help medical professionals identify, diagnose, and treat your medical problems.

Unfortunately, early-stage thyroid cancer does not have many warning signs. It is often diagnosed during routine physical exams—that’s why it’s so important to get regular check-ups. Thyroid cancer may also be unintentionally diagnosed during unrelated x-rays or imaging scans.

Types of Thyroid Cancer

There are two categories of thyroid cancer, differentiated and non-differentiated.

Differentiated thyroid cancers come from follicular cells (the primary type of cell in the thyroid). They look like normal cells and spread more slowly than poorly or non-differentiated cancers.

They’re also more responsive to treatment.

Differentiated thyroid cancers include:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common, accounting for approximately 80% of cases. It grows slowly and can spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for approximately 10% of cases. It does not typically spread to the lymph nodes but can spread to other organs like the liver, lungs, bones, and brain.
    • Hürthle cell carcinoma is an aggressive form of follicular thyroid cancer and accounts for 3% of cases.

Non-differentiated thyroid cancers include:

  • Medullary thyroid cancer develops from the thyroid cells that make calcitonin (Calcium-controlling hormones). This type of cancer makes up about 4% of cases and is known to spread to nearby lymph nodes and organs.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, accounting for only 1-2% of cases. It can spread quickly and is more difficult to treat than other types.
  • Thyroid lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is also rare, accounting for 1-2% of all cases.

Is Thyroid Cancer Prevention Possible?

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent thyroid cancer. However, there are several ways you can lower your risk. They include:

  • Limiting radiation exposure (e.g., X-rays and CT scans)
  • Knowing whether you have a family history
  • Performing regular thyroid neck checks
  • Getting your thyroid checked at your annual check-up
  • Requesting a thyroid and neck ultrasound
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Regular screening, prevention, and early detection of thyroid cancer symptoms are essential for successful treatment.

Thyroid Cancer Treatment Options

Your treatment options largely depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, overall health, and preferences.

The six standard types of thyroid cancer treatment include:

  1. Surgery
    Surgery is the most common treatment for thyroid cancer. It may involve partial or total removal of the thyroid, depending on the size and location of the tumor.
  2. Radiation therapy
    Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells or keep them from growing. How radiation is administered (internally or externally) depends on the type and stage of cancer.
  3. Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy uses medications to stop the growth of cancer cells. The way chemotherapy is administered (orally or intravenously) depends on the type and stage of the cancer.
  4. Thyroid hormone therapy
    Thyroid hormone therapy removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing.
  5. Targeted therapy
    Targeted therapy uses medications or other substances to identify and destroy specific cancer cells.
  6. Watchful waiting
    Watchful waiting is close monitoring of the tumor without giving any medical treatment until thyroid cancer symptoms appear or change.
  7. Immunotherapy
    Immunotherapy is currently being tested in clinical trials.

What Causes Thyroid Cancer?

The exact cause of thyroid cancer remains unknown; however, it has been linked to several risk factors. They include:

  • Gender—It is approximately three times more common in women than men.
  • Age—Women aged 40-50 and men aged 50-60 have an increased risk.
  • Genetics—Men and women with uncommon genetic mutations or conditions have higher rates.
  • Family history—Those with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with thyroid cancer have a higher risk.
  • Radiation—Exposure to radiation during childhood increases a person’s risk later in life.
  • Excess weight—A person’s risk increases as the body mass index (BMI) rises.
  • Iodine—Diets too low or too high in iodine increases a person’s risk.

What Is the Prognosis for Those With Thyroid Cancer?

Most people diagnosed with thyroid cancer have an excellent prognosis, meaning most can be cured with the proper treatment. 

The 5-year survival rate for low-stage papillary cancer is 99%. For low-stage follicular cancer, the rate is 98%, and for low-stage medullary cancer, the survival rate is 90%.

Stages of Thyroid Cancer

If you're diagnosed with thyroid cancer, your doctor will try to determine if it has spread and, if so, how far. This process is called staging.

Cancer stages are commonly assigned a number between one and four.

A lower number means the cancer only involves the thyroid and will likely respond well to treatment. A higher staging number means the cancer has spread or metastasized to other cells or organs throughout the body.

The higher the number, the more serious the diagnosis.

Doctors also use the TNM system to further categorize your thyroid cancer's size, location, and severity, along with the numerical stages. It focuses on three things:

  • T—The size and extent of the primary tumor.
  • N—Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M—Whether the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body (e.g., liver, lungs, and bones).

A number is then assigned to each of these letters to categorize the diagnosis further and help determine the most effective treatment.

Cancer staging is complex. It’s important to talk to your primary healthcare provider or oncologist if you have any questions or concerns. They can explain what your specific staging and TNM numbers mean.

Results are typically available within 1-2 business days from Quest Diagnostics for most tests.


Awareness and proactive monitoring are vital for anyone at risk of or concerned about thyroid cancer. Women, particularly those between the ages of 40 and 50, should be especially vigilant given their higher susceptibility to this disease.

While early-stage thyroid cancer often lacks warning signs, regular check-ups and being attentive to changes in your body can lead to early detection, which is crucial for successful treatment. The comprehensive lab tests available through Ulta Lab Tests, including the 'Stop the Thyroid Madness' Recommended Lab Tests, are invaluable tools in this process. They not only help in detecting thyroid cancer but also aid in understanding its type and stage, guiding appropriate treatment options.

Remember, while you cannot prevent thyroid cancer, you can certainly take steps to detect it early and manage it effectively. Regular screenings, being aware of your family history, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key to staying one step ahead of this disease.

Using Ulta Lab Tests for identifying thyroid cancer offers several significant advantages. Firstly, it provides easy access to a comprehensive range of thyroid-specific tests, including advanced panels that go beyond basic screening. This means that individuals can get a detailed analysis of their thyroid health, potentially catching early signs of thyroid cancer that standard tests might miss.

Secondly, the convenience factor is a major plus – with Ulta Lab Tests, you can order tests online without needing a doctor's referral, making the process quick and straightforward. Additionally, their tests are known for being both affordable and confidential, ensuring that you get reliable results without compromising your privacy or breaking the bank.

Lastly, the results from Ulta Lab Tests are typically available quickly, which is crucial for early detection and timely intervention in cases of thyroid cancer. This efficiency, combined with the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the tests, makes Ulta Lab Tests a valuable resource for anyone concerned about thyroid cancer.

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