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Thyroid and parathyroid cancer

Diagnosis of thyroid and parathyroid cancer

Most thyroid cancers are found by physicians who observe unusual lumps around the neck during an annual exam or physical.  

It is common for small lumps to form in the thyroid. Often, these lumps are nodules or “cysts” (fluid-filled sacs) growing in the thyroid, which are benign (noncancerous). The first step in diagnosing thyroid cancer is to determine whether there is a benign growth or potential cancer.

If you or your doctor notice a lump near your thyroid, your doctor may first recommend an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI. Your doctor may also use a blood test to look for changes in the thyroid.

If these tests indicate a possible issue, your doctor may take a biopsy, or a small tissue sample, to test the cells in your thyroid. 


When you visit Dignity Health, your treatment will depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer. Most people have surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland.

Other standard treatments include:

  • Radioactive iodine therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Thyroid hormone therapy
  • Targeted cancer therapy 

Dignity Health provides caring thyroid and parathyroid cancer treatment as part of our comprehensive oncology services.


Thyroid cancers have some of the highest recovery rates of any cancer, and a majority of people are completely cured in the early stages before it spreads.

The amount of time it will take you to return to your normal activities after treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the type of treatment you receive.

If you undergo surgery to remove your thyroid, your doctor will likely prescribe a replacement thyroid hormone, which you will need to take daily. Even if your thyroid gland was not completely removed, these medications can help keep cancer cells from coming back.

What is the difference between thyroid cancer and goiter?

Swelling in the neck is sometimes called “goiter.”

Unlike thyroid cancer, Goiter is a symptom, rather than a disease itself. While goiter can be caused by thyroid cancers, it can also be caused by iodine deficiency or over-production of thyroid hormones.

Goiter used to be a common condition. Today, salt is usually fortified with iodine (“iodized”) and iodine deficiency is now very rare in the U.S.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.