Thyroid cancer screening: Harms outweigh benefits

doctor checking thyroid There’s no need to have your thyroid screened for cancer if you’re not experiencing any symptoms, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which recently updated its recommendations.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck, near your collarbone. It makes hormones that regulate how your body uses food to make energy and how your brain, heart, liver and other organs function.

The USPSTF says there’s little direct evidence in favor of screening without symptoms, and it can lead to unnecessary treatment. Screening is often performed during a routine physical exam, when providers may either manually feel the neck or use ultrasound to check for lumps. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lumps on the thyroid are common and are typically noncancerous.

However, both the USPSTF and ACS say the following signs and symptoms require further examination:

  • Hoarseness
  • Pain in the front of the neck
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Lumps or swelling in the neck
  • Frequent coughing that’s not from a cold

Several factors can increase your risk for thyroid cancer:

  • Having a history of radiation exposure to the head and neck as a child
  • Being exposed to radioactive fallout
  • Having a family history of thyroid cancer in a first-degree relative (parents, siblings, children)

If you’re experiencing signs or symptoms, or if you’re at increased risk for thyroid cancer, schedule an appointment with your health care provider.