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The Types of Thyroid Cancer

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Thyroid Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

In the United States, the National Cancer Institute estimated that doctors diagnosed 48,020 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2011. The organization also estimated that in 2011, 1,740 people died from this type of cancer.

Thyroid cancer can occur at any age, though people who have had radiation therapy directed at the neck have a higher risk, according to MedlinePlus.

As the cancer progresses, patients may start developing symptoms, such as pain in the through, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and difficulty swallowing. Several types of thyroid cancer exist.

Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. MayoClinic.com stated that about 80 percent of thyroid cancer cases are papillary thyroid cancer. Women tend to have papillary thyroid cancer more often than men.

While possible in children, papillary thyroid cancer is seen more often in people over the age of 45. MedlinePlus added that it is also the least dangerous thyroid cancer.

Medullary Thyroid Cancer

Medullary thyroid cancer is different from other types of thyroid cancer as it arises from specialized C-cells found between the thyroid cells. There are several forms of medullary thyroid cancer: sporadic, MEN associated (multiple endocrine neoplasia) and familial.

Sporadic medullary thyroid cancer does not have a genetic component, while familial medullary thyroid cancer is passed down through a family. MEN associated medullary thyroid cancer is also genetic. Two forms of MEN, or multiple endocrine neoplasia, are associated with medullary thyroid cancer: MEN 2A and MEN 2B.

Patients with MEN 2A have problems with tumors of the adrenal gland and parathyroid glands in addition to the medullary thyroid cancer. Patients with MEN 2B have mucosal neuromas and tumors of the adrenal gland in addition to the medullary thyroid cancer. The familial type does not develop the other endocrine tumors that MEN syndromes have.

Follicular Thyroid Cancer

MedlinePlus stated that about 10 percent of thyroid cancer cases are follicular thyroid cancer. With this type of thyroid cancer, the cancer is likely to come back, as well as spread to other areas of the body. Follicular thyroid cancer is a slow-growing tumor.

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer

This type of thyroid cancer is very rare, but difficult to treat. Also called giant and spindle cell cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer accounts for about 1 percent of thyroid cancer cases, according to MedlinePlus. Anaplastic thyroid cancer grows rapidly, cannot be cured with surgery, and does not respond to radioiodine therapy.

Thyroid Lymphoma

Another rare type of thyroid cancer, thyroid lymphoma starts in the immune system cells. Columbia University Medical Center noted that it can be confused with anaplastic thyroid cancer. Unlike anaplastic thyroid cancer, it is very treatable.


National Cancer Institute. Thyroid Cancer Home Page. Web. 6 January 2012

MayoClinic.com. Thyroid Cancer. Web. 6 January 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Thyroid Cancer – Papillary Carcinoma Web. 6 January 2012

Columbia University Medical Center. Medullary Thyroid Cancer. Web. 6 January 2012

Weill Cornell Department of Surgery. Thyroid Cancer, Follicular Cell. Web. 6 January 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer. Web. 6 January 2012

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Thyroid Cancer. Web. 6 January 2012

Columbia University Medical Center. Thyroid Cancer – Risk Factors. Web. 6 January 2012

Reviewed January 9, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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