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Types of thyroid cancer

There are a number of different types of thyroid cancer.

Diagnosing your type of thyroid cancer

Your doctor finds out your type of cancer by taking a small sample of cells (a biopsy) from your thyroid. A pathologist then examines the cells under a microscope. The cells look different, depending on the type of thyroid cancer.

Differentiated thyroid cancer

About 9 out of 10 cases of thyroid cancer (90%) are differentiated thyroid cancers (DTC). This means that the cells have some features of normal thyroid gland cells. DTC is divided into 2 groups - papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

This is the most common type of thyroid cancer. About 80 to 85 out of every 100 thyroid cancers (80 to 85%) are papillary.

This type is more common in women and is usually diagnosed in younger people.

It is usually slow growing, but it can sometimes spread to lymph nodes in the neck or close to the thyroid.

About 5 to 10 out of every 100 thyroid cancers diagnosed are this type (5 to 10%). It is most often diagnosed in middle aged people.

Follicular thyroid cancer sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or bones.

Medullary thyroid cancer

This is a rare type of thyroid cancer. Between 3 and 10 out of every 100 thyroid cancers (3 to 10%) are this type.

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.

Hürthle cell thyroid cancer

Hürthle cell cancers are a rare type of thyroid cancer. About 4 out of every 100 cases of thyroid cancer (4%) are this type. Hürthle cells are abnormal cells that can develop in the thyroid gland. They are sometimes present in people with non cancerous (benign) thyroid disease.

Hürthle cell cancers are usually grouped with follicular thyroid cancers as they have some similarities. But Hürthle cells look different to follicular cells when seen under a microscope. The cells are also called oxyphilic cells so this cancer is also sometimes called oxyphil cell cancer. Hürthle cell tumours can be benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Hürthle cell thyroid cancer tends to affect more women than men. It is also most commonly found in people around the age of 50.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer

Between 1 and 3 out of every 100 thyroid cancers are this type (1 to 3%).

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed in older people and is more common in women.

it is called undifferentiated because the cancer cells do not look very like normal thyroid cells. It tends to grow more quickly than other types of thyroid cancer.

Rare types

There is a rare type of thyroid cancer called small cell lymphoma. 

Last reviewed: 
09 May 2018
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