What Does a Thyroid Cancer Lump Feel Like?

thyroid cancer
(L-R) Jochen Lorch, MD, MS, Francis Moore, MD, and Erik Alexander, MD, of Dana-Farber’s Thyroid Cancer Center.

While 80 to 90 percent of reported thyroid lumps are not cancerous, performing “neck checks” can help you become familiar with what your thyroid looks and feels like, so you can tell your heath care professional if you notice any changes.

Jochen Lorch, MD, director of the Thyroid Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, shares tips on how to check for thyroid cancer lumps and detect potential symptoms:

How can I check for thyroid lumps at home?

  • Sit or stand up straight, and make sure your neck muscles are relaxed.
  • Tip your head back and swallow.
  • As you swallow, feel your thyroid gland at the base of your neck, located below the larynx and above the collarbone, and check for any nodules or asymmetry.

Does a thyroid cancer lump hurt when I put pressure on it?

“It is usually painless,” says Lorch. “If it is tender, that could mean that a tumor is growing relatively fast, which could be a warning sign. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that could cause discomfort in the thyroid gland, like inflammation, so pain is not necessarily a good or bad sign.”

In fact, aside from tenderness or difficulty swallowing, symptoms of thyroid cancer are often subtle. Thyroid cancer cases are generally found during a routine checkup, or through imaging tests done because of other health concerns.

I think I feel a lump. Now what?

Typically, the nodule will feel firmer than the rest of the thyroid gland, but “You should look for asymmetry, and if you can palpate something that counts,” explains Lorch.

“If you feel a nodule, you should contact your doctor,” Lorch says. Patients are sent to an endocrinologist, where an ultrasound can determine if the thyroid gland lump looks suspicious. If it does, the endocrinologist or pathologist will use a small needle to remove tissue or fluid from the thyroid to examine it for cancer cells.

“Thyroid nodules are very common and frequently reported, and the overwhelming odds are that they will be benign,” Lorch adds.

Although the chances are low that a thyroid lump is cancerous, early detection is important. If you feel any changes to your thyroid glands or are experiencing symptoms like tenderness or difficulty swallowing, it is important to talk to your doctor.

“Thyroid cancer is a very curable disease; it just needs to be treated right away,” Lorch says.

Learn more about thyroid cancer risk factors, treatment, and research. You can also follow Lorch on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest discoveries.