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Thyroid cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Thyroid cancer forms in the tissues of the thyroid gland, which is located near either side of the trachea (windpipe), below the cartilage known as the Adam’s apple. Though thyroid cancer is not considered a type of head and neck cancer, it is typically treated by an otolaryngology-trained oncologist, who also treats malignancies of the mouth, nose, tonsils, sinuses, salivary glands and lymph nodes of the neck.

The thyroid gland produces several important hormones, including the thyroid hormone, which is involved in controlling body temperature, weight, energy level and heart rate. The thyroid gland also produces calcitonin, which helps the body use calcium.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 44,020 people in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2024. Compared with other common types of cancer, thyroid cancer occurs more frequently in younger patients, with about 65 percent of cases occurring in people under the age of 55.

No thyroid cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, our cancer experts are trained and experienced in diagnosing, staging and treating all stages and types of thyroid cancer. You may undergo diagnostic procedures such as a biopsy, MRI, X-ray and lab tests, then we’ll use that information to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to you and your needs and preferences. Every patient’s treatment plan also includes a range of supportive care services, such as pain management and occupational therapy, to help manage the side effects of the disease and its treatment and support quality of life.

This overview will cover the basic facts about thyroid cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of thyroid cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes thyroid cancer?

Who gets thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancers occur about three times more frequently in women than men. Women also tend to develop thyroid cancer at an earlier age, in their 40s and 50s, compared to men, who usually develop the disease in their 60s or 70s.

Thyroid cancer is seen less frequently in the United States than in some other countries. One risk factor, a low-iodine diet, doesn’t usually impact American patients, since iodine is regularly added to salt and other foods in the United States.

Up to 30 percent of thyroid cancer patients may develop cancer recurrence. Of those, about 80 percent have thyroid cancer recur in the neck area. The other 20 percent have thyroid cancer that metastasizes to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver and bones.

Shauna Luera

Shauna L.

Thyroid Cancer

"I got through cancer treatment with the support of my family and friends. City of Hope became a second family to me—all the patients, caregivers, doctors and clinicians I met there. They say it takes a village to raise kids. Well, it takes an army to fight cancer. You can’t do it alone. It is a battle on every front. You need to have all available weapons along with soldiers supporting you."


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Thyroid cancer types

There are several different types of thyroid cancer, which are classified based on how similar they look to normal thyroid cells under a microscope and by the type of cell from which they develop.

Types of thyroid cancer may include:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer, the most common thyroid carcinoma, which forms from follicular cells
  • Follicular thyroid cancer, which is a differentiated thyroid cancer, meaning the cancer cells resemble normal thyroid cells
  • Hürthle cell thyroid cancer, also called oxyphil cell carcinoma, which is a subtype of follicular carcinoma
  • Medullary thyroid cancer, a carcinoma that develops from C cells in the thyroid gland, including familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC) and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2)
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is the most undifferentiated type of thyroid carcinoma, meaning the thyroid tumor cells look more like cancer cells than normal cells

Learn more about thyroid cancer types

Thyroid cancer symptoms

Diagnosing thyroid cancer

Tests used for diagnosing thyroid cancer may include:

Learn more about tests used to diagnose thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer treatment options

Our approach to helping you maintain your quality of life

At City of Hope, each thyroid patient’s multidisciplinary care team is typically led by an otolaryngology-trained oncologist and coordinated by a registered oncology nurse, who helps track the various appointments, follows up on tests and answers questions that come up along the way. Your team may also include a radiation oncologist, surgeon and pathologist—all working together, under one roof, to coordinate and deliver your care plan.

Many common treatments for thyroid cancer, including surgery and radiation therapy, can cause side effects, such as pain, malnutrition and neuropathy, that may impact your quality of life. We understand that supporting your quality of life is critical to your recovery. That’s why each City of Hope patient’s personalized treatment plan includes a range of supportive care services designed to help manage side effects, reduce the risk of treatment delays and help the patient get back to life.

Patients with thyroid cancer who have had most or all of their thyroid gland removed by surgery, for example, may need to take daily hormone supplements in order to maintain their bodies’ normal metabolism. If you need to take thyroid hormone therapy, your care team at City of Hope will work with you to find the right dosage and help you manage potential side effects.