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    Consumer Health: What do you know about the types of thyroid cancer?

3D anatomy image with the thyroid gland highlighted

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

Nearly 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 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.

Treatment can cure most thyroid cancers. Your treatment options will depend on the type and stage of your thyroid cancer, your overall health, and your preferences.

Types of thyroid cancer

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.

Differentiated thyroid cancers

This broad category includes types of thyroid cancer that start in the cells that produce and store thyroid hormones. These cells are called follicular cells. Differentiated thyroid cancer cells appear similar to healthy cells when viewed under a microscope.

The four types of differentiated thyroid cancer are:

  1. Papillary thyroid cancer
    Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer. It can occur at any age, but it most often affects people 30 to 50. Most papillary thyroid cancers are small and respond well to treatment.
  2. Follicular thyroid cancer
    Follicular thyroid cancer is rare and usually affects people older than 50. Follicular thyroid cancer most often spreads to the lungs and bones.
  3. Hurthle cell thyroid cancer
    Hurthle cell cancer is a rare and aggressive type of thyroid cancer that can grow to involve structures in the neck and spread to other parts of the body.
  4. Poorly differentiated thyroid cancer
    This rare type of thyroid cancer is more aggressive than other differentiated thyroid cancers and often doesn't respond to the usual treatments.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of thyroid cancer that typically occurs in adults 60 and older. It grows quickly and is difficult to treat. It can cause severe signs and symptoms, such as neck swelling that worsens quickly and may lead to difficulty breathing and swallowing.

Medullary thyroid cancer
Medullary thyroid cancer is rare and 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.

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.

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