Incidence and Types of Thyroid Cancer

Papillary, Follicular, Medullary, and Anaplastic Thyroid Cancers

Written by Bridget Brady MD, FACS

The National Cancer Institute indicates that thyroid cancer is the most common type of endocrine-related cancer and estimates 64,330 new cases in 2016. Thyroid cancer represents approximately 3.8% of all new cancer cases.1 Although a diagnosis of thyroid or any type of cancer is frightening, the vast majority of thyroid cancers is highly treatable and in most cases curable with surgery and other treatments.

The purpose of this Patient Guide to Thyroid Cancer is to provide you trustworthy information about thyroid cancer. In this Guide, we explain:

About Your Thyroid
Your thyroid is located at the front of your neck near the base of your throat. The butterfly-shaped gland wraps around your windpipe. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, a group of hormone-secreting glands that regulate body functions. Your thyroid gland secretes hormones to regulate your body's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and metabolism.

Types of Thyroid Cancer
Cancers arise from cells that have undergone a change (malignant transformation) and begin to abnormally divide and multiply. Tumor growth may be slow or progress rapidly and invade or spread (metastasize) into other tissues. There 4 types of thyroid cancer based on their cell of origin and their appearance and/or characteristics.

Thyroid cancer is generally first suspected by a lump or nodule in the thyroid gland. To make an accurate diagnosis of thyroid cancer, the thyroid cells will need to be closely examined. Since a cancer cell usually looks different than a normal cell, the type of thyroid cancer is determined by microscopic examination of the thyroid cells found in the nodule (neck lump) or growth. If surgery is recommended, the nodule(s) and/or mass is removed and examined by a pathologist to establish the diagnosis.

Papillary Thyroid Cancer2-4

Follicular Thyroid Cancer2-4

Medullary Thyroid Cancer2-4

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer2-4

Bridget Brady, MD, FACS is the first fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon in Austin, Texas. She has a passion for and expertise in disease of the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Dr. Brady has performed thousands of thyroidectomies and parathryoidectomies with a focus on minimally invasive techniques to optimize patients' medical and cosmetic outcomes.


1. National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER).  SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Thyroid Cancer.  Accessed June 16, 2016.

2. American Thyroid Association. What are the types of thyroid cancer?  Accessed June 16, 2016.

3. Hershman JM. Thyroid Cancers. Merck Manual. Professional Version. May 2014.  Accessed June 16, 2016.

4. American Cancer Society. Thyroid Cancer. April 15, 2016. Accessed June 16, 2016.

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