Thyroid cancer disproportionally affects women more than men. However, vocal changes, neck pain, and persistent coughing are common thyroid cancer symptoms in anyone.

Cancer occurs when cells in your body grow abnormally, replicating damaged DNA, the genetic code your body uses for development and survival.

Thyroid cancer is cancer that develops in your thyroid gland, the gland in your neck that generates hormones responsible for regulating processes like metabolism, heart rate, and body temperature.

While women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men, the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are the same for everyone, regardless of sex or gender.

Language matters

You’ll notice that the language used to share statistics and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between “female” and “women” and “men.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

The studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

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Thyroid cancer presents similarly for women and men. Symptoms may include:

  • swelling in the neck
  • frontal neck pain
  • a lump in the neck
  • permanent vocal changes or hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • trouble breathing
  • persistent coughing unrelated to sickness or allergies

However, many people with thyroid cancer do not have symptoms. This is because thyroid cancers typically do not affect thyroid function, so the hallmark signs of too high or too low thyroid hormones are not usually present.

When thyroid cancer does affect thyroid function in rare cases, you may notice subtle symptoms caused by too little or too much thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism), such as:

  • weight changes
  • feeling too cold or too hot
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • dry skin or hair
  • face puffiness
  • changes in how much you sweat
  • trouble sleeping
  • eye irritation
  • mood changes
  • appetite increase or decrease

Thyroid dysfunction can cause changes in your monthly menstrual cycle, too. This can result in periods that are lighter or heavier or are happening more or less often.

Thyroid cancer skin manifestations

According to research from 2023, skin changes may occur along with thyroid cancer. This may be due to underlying genetic conditions or because the cancer has spread to the skin tissue.

These skin changes can appear as follows:

  • Hyperpigmented areas: areas of darker skin that typically appear around the upper shoulder
  • Mucosal neuromas: benign nerve tissue tumors in the mouth
  • Oral papillomas: skin tumors in the mouth
  • Trichilemmoma: small wart-like growths usually on the face or neck
  • Acral keratosis: wart-like lumps primarily seen on the hands and feet

There are several main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Differentiated: This cancer develops from thyroid follicular cells and accounts for the majority of thyroid cancers. It includes subtypes of follicular cancer, papillary cancer, and Hürthle cell cancer.
  • Medullary: This cancer develops in the C cells of the thyroid. It accounts for approximately 4% of thyroid cancers. There are two types: familial and sporadic.
  • Anaplastic: Accounting for approximately 2% of thyroid cancers, this cancer is also called undifferentiated carcinoma. It may develop from differentiated cancer, is fast growing, and is considered challenging to treat.

Other rare types of thyroid cancers do exist, including thyroid lymphomas and thyroid sarcomas.

Papillary thyroid cancer, a type of differentiated cancer, is the most common type in all people, making up approximately 70–80% of thyroid cancers. The second most common type of thyroid cancer is follicular thyroid cancer.

Women are disproportionately affected by thyroid cancer. It’s three times more common in women than men.

The reasons for this aren’t well understood. Some research suggests men and women experience thyroid cancer equally, and that women are more likely to detect thyroid cancer.

Other theories point to natural female hormonal cycles that may play a role in an increased risk of thyroid cancer.

A 2021 study found that women who began menopause at age 45 or older had a higher risk of thyroid cancer, compared with women who began menopause at a younger age.

Thyroid cancer can develop in anyone at any time, but the average age of diagnosis overall is around age 51.

In women, thyroid cancer is more common between ages 25 and 65.

In general, thyroid cancer is one of the most common cancers in people between ages 20 and 39.

While women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer more often than men, survival rates are similar.

Thyroid cancer survival rates vary depending on if the cancer is localized to its original location, regionally spread into nearby tissues, or has moved to distant sites around the body.

Survival rates also vary depending on the type of thyroid cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), 5-year survival rates for papillary, follicular, and medullary thyroid cancers have similar projections:

  • Localized: greater than 99.5%
  • Regional: 99% for papillary, 98% for follicular, and 92% for medullary
  • Distant: 74% for papillary, 67% for follicular, and 43% for medullary

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is often more aggressive and challenging to treat. Its 5-year survival rates are:

  • Localized: 39%
  • Regional: 11%
  • Distant: 4%

Survival rates compare the likelihood that someone with thyroid cancer is to survive for 5 years after receiving a diagnosis, compared with someone without thyroid cancer.

For example, a 99.5% survival rate suggests that someone with the condition is 99.5% as likely to live for 5 years as someone not living with cancer.

Many factors can affect survival rates, including age, overall health, and treatment options.

It is important to know that the data listed above is based on people who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer between 2012 and 2018. Thyroid cancer treatments have improved in recent years, and survival rates may have increased as a result.

Thyroid cancer is more commonly diagnosed in women than men, but the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are universal.

If thyroid cancer is affecting thyroid hormones, you may notice changes to your menstrual cycle.