Thyroid cancer can occur in all age groups, but is more common over the age of thirty. It is three times more likely to occur in women and most patients present with a nodule in their thyroid. The clinical features vary depending on the time of presentation. An early presentation may be just a neck lump with no symptoms. A late presentation may have additional features of hoarseness (due to pressure on the recurrent laryngeal nerve) or difficulty in swallowing and eating. It is important to realise that thyroid nodules are common, and it has been estimated that about 10% of the population will have them. Less than 5% of all thyroid nodules are malignant.
The overall prognosis of thyroid cancer is better than most other cancers. The most common types of thyroid cancer (Papillary and Follicular) have the best prognosis. The cure rates of these cancers in the young are as high as 95%.
Medullary cancer is rarer than papillary and follicular cancers, but has a worse prognosis. It is more aggressive and tends to spread to lymph nodes at an early stage.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer has the worse prognosis of all the thyroid cancers as it often presents after it has spread. Rarely can an operation remove the entire tumour.