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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Recurrent thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer develops in the tissues of the thyroid gland, located in the front of the throat, below the Adam’s apple. Even after treatment for thyroid cancer, it is possible for the primary cancer to return. This is called recurrent disease. Recurrent thyroid cancer may occur years after the initial treatment for the disease is completed. Recurrent thyroid cancer typically occurs in the neck area, such as the lymph nodes. This is called a regional recurrence. Some patients experience distant metastases, or cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Distant thyroid cancer recurrence typically develops in the bones and lungs.

Signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer recurrence may include:

  • Neck swelling or a lump in the neck that may grow rapidly
  • Neck pain that starts in the front of the neck and sometimes extends to the ears
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Voice changes or hoarseness
  • Continuous cough not related to a cold

Early thyroid cancer relapse symptoms may not be apparent, so regular screenings and follow-up appointments are strongly recommended. At the follow-up appointments, you may undergo a physical exam, blood tests or imaging tests, such as radioiodine scans or ultrasounds. These tests are designed to screen for cancer recurrence and other health concerns. Make sure to discuss with your doctor any symptoms you may be experiencing. The timing and frequency of recommended follow-up appointments depend on many factors, including the stage and size of the original tumor. 

As for the recurrence rate, up to30 percent of thyroid cancer patients may develop cancer recurrence. Of these patients, an estimated 80 percent develop thyroid cancer recurrence only in the neck area. The other 20 percent diagnosed with recurrent disease develop distant metastases in other areas of the body. A number of treatment options are available for primary and recurrent thyroid cancer, but early detection is key. 


Last Revised: 02/23/2017

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