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Home > Cancers We Treat > Endocrine Cancer > Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer


Thyroid cancer is a malignant growth of the cells that make up the thyroid. The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the lower neck. Like all endocrine glands, the thyroid produces hormones—chemicals that circulate through the blood to direct functioning in other organs of the body. The thyroid is made up of two types of cells, follicular cells and C cells. The follicular cells produce thyroid hormone, which is involved in regulating body temperature, heart rate, and the body’s use of energy. The C cells produce calcitonin, which is involved in the processing and use of calcium throughout the body.

A thyroid tumor grows when cells of the thyroid become cancerous. These cancer cells begin to divide and multiply more quickly than normal cells. Growths on the thyroid are often called thyroid nodules. They can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The vast majority (more than 90%) of thyroid nodules are benign.

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There are four main types of thyroid cancer:

  • Papillary and follicular thyroid cancer 
  • Medullary thyroid cancer 
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer 
  • Hurthle cell cancer 

Thyroid cancer is the most common type of endocrine gland cancer. About 14,000 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed each year, and about 1,100 deaths occur annually due to thyroid cancer. Women are about three times as likely as men to develop thyroid cancer. The average thyroid cancer patient is 45–50 years old when diagnosed.


Risk factors for thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Age - Most people diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer are over age 60
  • Gender - women are about three times as likely as men to develop thyroid cancer
  • Family History and Genetic Makeup    
  • Exposure to Radiation    
  • Iodine Deficiency  
  • Geographic Location - Incidence of thyroid cancer is highest in the Hawaiian and Polynesian islands and lowest in Poland.

If you carry the RET gene, you may be advised to have your thyroid removed at a very early age to avoid the very high risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer.


Symptoms of thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Swelling or lump in neck 
  • Neck pain 
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Noisy breathing, wheezing 
  • Cough 
  • Difficulty swallowing


The diagnosis and prognosis of thyroid cancer includes the following:

  • Review of medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Cytology
  • Staging
  • Prognosis
  • Blood Tests   
    • Calcitonin
    • Thyroglobulin
    • PET proto-oncogene

Information to aid in staging thyroid cancer can come from the results of imaging studies, such as:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Radioactive iodine uptake (RAIU) test 
  • Radioactive octreotide scan


Treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgical procedures
  • Medications
  • Lifestyle changes


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.