Thyroid cancer survival rates

Written by Dr.Bayat
Associate Professor of Orthopedic expert,Brigham Hostpital

Although the cancer as a medical term is extremely frightening, but you should know that not all cancers are life threatening. Instead, there are so many cancers that may not even create any significant problem. Moreover, some cancers can even be cured completely without having negative effect in the rest of our life.

In this article, we will explain the symptoms, different types and side effects of the thyroid cancer and how it may affect patient’s life. 



Thyroid cancer survival rates 


Thyroid cancers:

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-like tissue in the front side of the neck that plays a critical role in regulating our metabolism, such as heart rate and weight by producing the hormone called thyroxin.


Thyroid cancer survival rates 


There are different types of thyroid cancers, some of them are slow-growing while others are very invasive. Thyroid cancer is rare compared to other cancers but unfortunately the number of thyroid cancers has been increasing in recent years.

Some physicians attribute this increase to advances in technology and methods enabling better and more accurate detection and diagnosis of this cancer.

Let’s first look into the main symptoms of the thyroid cancer before jumping into its survival rate.


Symptoms of thyroid cancer

Unfortunately, thyroid cancers are often asymptomatic at first that makes their early detection even harder.

The most common symptoms are swelling and bulging of the neck. Abnormal changes in voice called hoarseness has also been observed in some patients with this cancer. Finally, pain is another common symptom of thyroid cancer. It is common in almost every type of thyroid cancer except the one called "medullary thyroid cancer."


Types of thyroid cancers

There are four types of thyroid cancer listed below which are sorted based on their prevalence. Note that their names represent the main characteristics of the cancer cells when viewed under the microscope.

  • Papillary carcinoma and mixed papillary follicular thyroid cancers are responsible for about 85% of all thyroid cancers.
  • Follicular carcinoma and Hurthle cell carcinoma are responsible for about 10% of all thyroid cancers.
  • 3% of all thyroid cancers belong to the Medullary thyroid carcinoma category, and
  • Anaplastic carcinoma accounts for 1% of all thyroid cancers.


Treatment of thyroid cancers

As there are different types of thyroid cancer, the choices of treatments and the response of the cancer to these treatments may vary from case to case. The age of the patient is also an important criterion in selecting the right treatment and the level of response to expect. However, the good news is that most of thyroid cancers are completely curable.

For example, as mentioned earlier, the most common types of thyroid cancers are follicular and papillary. These two types can be completely cured especially in patients who are less than fifty years old, up to ninety-eight percent of the times.

Treatment of follicular and papillary cancer:

In patients with follicular and papillary thyroid cancers, recovery is achieved by complete removal of the involved part of the thyroid or complete removal of the entire thyroid gland and lymph nodes involved in the cancer. Only less than 12% of patients with papillary or follicular thyroid cancer may need radioactive treatment after this surgery.

For many follicular or papillary cancers in patients who have small thyroid gland, resection of thyroid gland is all that will be needed. But to do this, only a small portion of the thyroid gland should be involved, and the cancer should not have affected the surrounding arteries, nerves, and lymph nodes.

In any case, it should be remembered that the choice of treatment and the response to treatment varies from person to person.


Survival rate in thyroid cancers

The percentage of patients who are still alive five years after they were diagnosed with the cancer or started the treatment is called the survival rate of the cancer assuming that they are all diagnosed at the same stage of the cancer.

For example, if ten out of a hundred people with a certain type of cancer survive after five years, the survival rate of that cancer will be ten percent.

Here, we will discuss the survival rate of thyroid cancer from two different angles:

  1. Solely based on their pathologic type independent from their stage and the amount of their dissemination in body.
  2. Survival rate when the amount of cancer dissemination has also been considered.


Survival rate solely based on the cancer type

papillary thyroid cancer

In medicine, papillary thyroid cancer is considered as one of the most treatable cancers, since more than ninety-eight percent of affected people will be completely cured and live normally afterward.

Medullary thyroid carcinoma

Unlike follicular and papillary thyroid cancers, medullary carcinoma has a more aggressive behavior. At the very early stages of this cancer, arteries, nerves, and lymph nodes around the thyroid gland may also get involved.  

In its advanced form, this cancer can become metastasis meaning that it may spread even to distant organs such as the brain, liver, bones, and adrenal glands. A thyroid cancer which has reached this stage will worsen the survival rate.

Medullary cancer has a lower recovery rate than papillary and follicular thyroid cancers, but is more treatable than anaplastic cancer.

Anaplastic cancers

Unfortunately, anaplastic cancers have very little chance of being cured, even with the best treatments.


survival rate when also including the level of the dissemination of the cancer within the body

Before describing the survival rate in different types of thyroid cancers based on their dissemination within the body, we first need to explain a few medical terms:

  • Localized nodule or cancer: when there is no involvement outside the thyroid gland.
  • Regional cancer: it is when thyroid cancer has spread outside the thyroid gland but only affects the structures around and near the thyroid gland.
  • Distant cancer: cancer has progressed to organs far from the thyroid gland, such as the brain, liver, and bone.


Papillary thyroid cancer survival rate:

  • Localized: Five-year survival rate is almost 100%
  • Regional: Five-year survival rate is 99%
  • Distant: Five-year survival rate is 88%

Generally speaking, it can be said that the five-year survival rate of this type of cancer is around 100% independent of the involvement level of the cancer.


Follicular thyroid cancer:

  • Localized: Five-year survival rate is close to 100%
  • Regional: Five-year survival rate is 96%
  • Distant: Five-year survival rate is 63% percent

Overall, the five-year survival rate of this cancer is about 98%.


Medullary thyroid cancer:

  • Localized: Five-year survival rate of about 100%
  • Regional: Five-year survival rate is 90%
  • Distant: Five-year survival rate is 39%

Overall, about 90 percent survival rate is expected for this type of cancer.


Anaplastic thyroid cancer:

  • Localized: Five-year survival is 31%
  • Regional: Five-year survival is 12%
  • Distant: Five-year survival of 4%

On average, for this type of thyroid cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 7%.

Points to consider when dealing with thyroid cancer:

  • Today, with all the advancements in diagnostic and therapeutic methods, survival rate of this cancer is expected to be higher than the numbers mentioned above.
  • These numbers are only for when the initial diagnosis of cancer has been made. Therefore, if the cancer recurs after the first treatments, these numbers may not be valid anymore.
  • The patient's age, general health, underlying diseases, and his or her response to treatment all can affect the survival rate. It should be understood that these numbers only provide an estimation and average of survival rates according to the stage of thyroid cancer, without considering the special conditions of each individual patient.


Written by Dr.Bayat
Associate Professor of Orthopedic expert,Brigham Hostpital



  • Ghossein RA, Leboeuf R, Patel KN, Rivera M, Katabi N, Carlson DL, et al. Tall cell variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma without extrathyroid extension: biologic behavior and clinical implications. Thyroid.

  • McHenry CR, Phitayakorn R. Follicular adenoma and carcinoma of the thyroid gland. Oncologist

  •  Howell GM, Hodak SP, Yip L. RAS mutations in thyroid cancer. Oncologist

  •  Volante M, Landolfi S, Chiusa L, Palestini N, Motta M, Codegone A, et al. Poorly differentiated carcinomas of the thyroid with trabecular, insular, and solid patterns: a clinicopathologic study of 183 patients. Cancer.

  • Landa I, Ibrahimpasic T, Boucai L, Sinha R, Knauf JA, Shah RH, et al. Genomic and transcriptomic hallmarks of poorly differentiated and anaplastic thyroid cancers. J Clin Invest.

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