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Types of thyroid cancer

Men and woman discussing thyroid cancer

This page tells you about the 4 main types of thyroid cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Types of thyroid cancer

There are several types of thyroid cancer. The most common type is papillary thyroid cancer. It is more common in women, and is usually diagnosed in younger people. This type of cancer usually grows slowly. But it can spread to lymph nodes in the neck or close to the thyroid.

Follicular thyroid cancer is most often diagnosed in middle aged people. It sometimes spreads to other parts of the body. If it does spread, it most often goes to the lungs or bones.

Medullary thyroid cancer is quite rare. About a quarter of these cancers (25%) are caused by a faulty gene running in the family. Medullary thyroid cancer can also spread to the lungs or bones.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is also rare. It is usually diagnosed in older people, and is more common in women. Anaplastic thyroid cancer tends to grow more quickly than other types.

Very rare types of thyroid cancer include non Hodgkin lymphoma of the thyroid and Hürthle cell cancer of the thyroid.
 

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Diagnosing the type of thyroid cancer

Your doctor will know the type of thyroid cancer you have by taking a small sample of cells from the thyroid (a biopsy). A pathologist examines the cells in the laboratory under a microscope. The cells look different, depending on the type of cancer you have. About 9 out of 10 cases of thyroid cancer (90%) are differentiated thyroid cancers (DTC). This just means that the cells have some features of normal thyroid gland cells. DTC is divided into 2 groups - papillary and follicular thyroid cancer. Most of these types of thyroid cancer are cured.

This is the most common type of thyroid cancer. About 6 out of 10 thyroid cancers diagnosed are papillary (60%). This type is more common in women. It is usually diagnosed in younger people and is usually slow growing. But it can sometimes spread to lymph nodes in the neck or close to the thyroid.

 

Follicular thyroid cancer

This type of thyroid cancer is most often diagnosed in middle aged people. About 3 out of every 20 thyroid cancers diagnosed are this type (15%). Follicular thyroid cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body. If it does spread, it most often goes to the lungs or bones.

 

Medullary thyroid cancer

This is a rare type of thyroid cancer. Between 5 and 8 out of every 100 thyroid cancers diagnosed are this type (5 to 8%). About a quarter (25%) of medullary thyroid cancers are caused by an inherited faulty gene which runs in the family. Medullary thyroid cancer can spread to the lungs or bones.

 

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Less than 1 out of every 20 thyroid cancers diagnosed are this type (5%). Anaplastic thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed in older people. About 3 out of every 4 people diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer (75%) are over 60 years old. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is most common in women. It tends to grow more quickly than other types of thyroid cancer.

 

Very rare types of thyroid cancer

It is possible to get a non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) of the thyroid gland. This is a very rare condition. If you have been diagnosed with this type of cancer, look at the NHL section. The NHL section tells you about the treatment for non Hodgkin lymphoma.

There is also a rare type called Hürthle cell cancer of the thyroid gland. We have information about Hürthle cell thyroid cancer in the rare cancers section.

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Updated: 22 October 2014