Address: 27 Welbeck Street, London, W1G 8EN
Tel: 020 7101 3377

Understanding the Results: Interpretation of Thyroid Ultrasound Scans

Thyroid tumours - Symptoms and causes

Thyroid tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous), with the majority being benign. They arise from different cell types within the thyroid gland, leading to various types of tumors with distinct characteristics and treatment approaches. Understanding these tumors is crucial for appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Types of Thyroid Tumors

  1. Benign Thyroid Tumors

    • Thyroid adenomas: These are the most common benign thyroid tumors, presenting as nodules within the gland. They typically do not cause symptoms and do not spread beyond the thyroid gland.
  2. Malignant Thyroid Tumors (Thyroid Cancer)

    • Papillary thyroid cancer: The most common type of thyroid cancer, accounting for about 80% of cases. It grows slowly and is usually curable, especially if diagnosed early.
    • Follicular thyroid cancer: Makes up about 10-15% of thyroid cancer cases. It’s more likely to spread to the blood vessels and distant organs compared to papillary cancer but still has a good prognosis.
    • Medullary thyroid cancer: Accounts for 3-4% of thyroid cancers. It originates from C cells that produce calcitonin, a hormone. It can be sporadic or part of genetic syndromes like Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 2 (MEN2).
    • Anaplastic thyroid cancer: A rare, aggressive form of thyroid cancer that is difficult to treat. It typically occurs in older adults.

Symptoms of Thyroid Tumors

Many thyroid tumors do not cause symptoms, especially in the early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • A palpable nodule or lump in the neck
  • Changes in voice, including hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pain in the thyroid region or neck


The diagnosis of thyroid tumors often involves:

  • Physical examination: To check for nodules or swelling in the thyroid gland.
  • Blood tests: Assessing thyroid function and, for medullary thyroid cancer, measuring calcitonin levels.
  • Ultrasound: To evaluate the characteristics of thyroid nodules.
  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB): The removal of thyroid tissue for microscopic examination, which is crucial for determining if a tumor is benign or malignant.
  • Genetic testing: Particularly for medullary thyroid cancer, to identify hereditary conditions.


Treatment depends on the type and stage of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall health:

  • Benign tumors often require monitoring without immediate treatment. Surgery may be recommended if the tumor causes symptoms or cosmetic concerns.
  • Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are typically treated with surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland, possibly followed by radioactive iodine therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer treatment includes surgery, and patients may also benefit from genetic counseling.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer may require a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, although the prognosis remains challenging.

Follow-up and Prognosis

Regular follow-up care is important for anyone diagnosed with a thyroid tumor to monitor for recurrence, especially for thyroid cancers. The prognosis for thyroid cancer is generally favorable, with high survival rates for papillary and follicular cancers. Early detection and treatment significantly improve outcomes, underscoring the importance of monitoring thyroid health and addressing any changes promptly.

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Address: 27 Welbeck Street, London, W1G 8EN

Telephone020 7101 3377