• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: 5 types of thyroid cancer

September 16, 2021
3D anatomy image with the thyroid gland highlighted

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, which make this a good time to learn about the five types of thyroid cancer.

More than 44,000 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and more than 2,000 people will die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight.

There may be no signs or symptoms early in the disease. As thyroid cancer grows, it may cause pain and swollen lymph nodes; difficulty swallowing; and changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness.

Most thyroid cancers can be cured with treatment. Your treatment options will depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, your overall health and your preferences.

Thyroid cancer is classified into types based on the kinds of cells found in the tumor. Your type is determined when a sample of tissue from your cancer is examined under a microscope. The type of thyroid cancer is considered when determining your treatment and prognosis.

The five types of thyroid cancer are:

  • Papillary thyroid cancer
    Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer. It arises from follicular cells, which produce and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer can occur at any age, but it most often affects people 30 to 50.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer
    Follicular thyroid cancer also arises from the follicular cells of the thyroid. It usually affects people older than 50. Hurthle cell cancer is a rare and potentially more aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer
    Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer that begins in the follicular cells. It grows rapidly and is difficult to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer typically occurs in adults 60 and older.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer
    Medullary thyroid cancer begins in thyroid cells called C cells, which produce the hormone calcitonin. Elevated levels of calcitonin in the blood can indicate medullary thyroid cancer at an early stage. Certain genetic syndromes increase the risk of medullary thyroid cancer, although this genetic link is uncommon.
  • Other rare types
    Other rare types of cancer that start in the thyroid include thyroid lymphoma, which begins in the immune system cells of the thyroid, and thyroid sarcoma, which begins in the connective tissue cells of the thyroid.

Connect with others talking about living with thyroid cancer in the Thyroid Cancer support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.