Thyroid Cancer: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society, thyroid cancer “is one of the least deadly cancers. The 5-year survival rate (the percentage of people living at least 5 years after being diagnosed) for all cases is about 97 percent.”

Differentiated thyroid cancers (papillary and follicular) have the best outlook for cure or prognosis. Medullary thyroid cancer has a slightly poorer prognosis but can be cured when caught and treated early, says Dr. Lairmore.

"Thyroid cancer is different from many other adult cancers in that it is commonly diagnosed in younger people. Nearly 2 of 3 cases are found in people between the ages of 20 and 55,” according to the American Cancer Society.


Thyroid cancer is a malignant tumor that forms in the thyroid gland.

Your thyroid gland is about the size and shape of a large butterfly. It’s under your Adam’s apple at the base of your neck, right below your voice box (larynx). Your thyroid gland is composed of two lobes (the wings of the butterfly) on either side of your windpipe (trachea). The two lobes are connected by a thin piece of tissue called the isthmus.

Sometimes your thyroid begins to grow excess cells and forms a tumor, called a nodule. The nodule can be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). About 85 to 90 percent of thyroid nodules are benign.

You usually cannot feel a healthy thyroid gland, but a nodule on your thyroid will feel like a hard lump.

The precise cause of all thyroid cancers is not known. While most cases of thyroid cancer are sporadic, some are inherited or have a genetic basis. If thyroid cancer is inherited, it’s usually seen in families with a number of members diagnosed with thyroid and other types of cancer.

“Also, certain kinds of thyroid cancers are more likely to have a hereditary cause. For example, approximately 25 percent of medullary thyroid cancers (MTC) are caused by an inherited cancer risk, while less than 5 percent of papillary thyroid cancer is inherited,” says Maria A. Blazo, MD, Genetics.

For more information about hereditary types of thyroid cancer, visit Cancer.Net, a website of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

If you are concerned that you or a member of your family may have a hereditary form of thyroid cancer, ask your physician for a referral to the Scott & White Cancer Genetics Clinic for testing to determine whether you have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

Related Resources

Additional information about thyroid cancer:

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