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Thyroid cancer

diagnosis · treatment · research

What thyroid cancer is

When malignant tumour cells are located in the thyroid, this is called thyroid cancer.

The thyroid may have lumps or nodules, which may be benign (or non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Up to 95% of thyroid tumours are benign.

Benign tumours usually arise from thyroid follicular cells and form single or multiple nodules, referred to as multinodular goitres. These tumours are usually cysts; that is, they contain fluid, although sometimes they are more solid, such as hyperplastic nodules, which are more likely to be cancerous.

Most thyroid cancers are differentiated and originate from follicular cells.

Types of thyroid cancer

The most common type is papillary carcinoma with a frequency of 8 out of 10 thyroid cancers. These tend to grow very slowly and often spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. However, they usually have a very good prognosis and rarely lead to death.

The next most common type is follicular carcinoma, which accounts for 1 in 10 thyroid cancers. Unlike papillary carcinoma, it rarely spreads to the lymph nodes, but it can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or bones. Its prognosis is not as favourable as papillary carcinoma, but it is still very curable in most cases.

There are other types of thyroid cancer, but they are much less frequent than differentiated cancers. Medullary carcinoma begins in the C cells that produce the hormone calcitonin, which is responsible for controlling calcium in the blood. Sometimes, they can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs or liver even before a thyroid nodule is detected. This tumour has a less favourable prognosis, as it does not take up radioactive iodine, which is used to kill tumour cells in differentiated cancers.

Anaplastic, or undifferentiated cancer, is a rare form of thyroid cancer, accounting for about 2% of total cases. It often spreads rapidly to the neck and other parts of the body and is difficult to treat at diagnosis, with a very poor prognosis.

Other possible tumours, though much less frequent, are those originating in other types of cells present in the thyroid gland such as lymphomas, sarcomas and parathyroid carcinomas.

Treatment of thyroid cancer at the IVO

The decision for appropriate treatment requires the involvement of several specialists in addition to ENT specialists, such as radiologists and medical and radiation oncologists. Thyroid cancers are required to be treated by specialists (ENT specialists, radiation therapists and oncologists) who are specially trained in the treatment of this disease.

Head and Neck Tumour Committee

The Head and Neck Tumour Committee is made up of a multidisciplinary team of expert professionals.

ENT Service

Medical Oncology Service

The Service's team of professionals accompanies cancer patients throughout the whole disease process.

Clinical trials

The current way we have of advancing and improving cancer treatment is through what we call "clinical trials".

A clinical trial is a research study carried out on people with the aim of learning more about how the body reacts to certain treatments. These trials generally seek to find drugs that are more effective than the current best therapeutic option for patients, or that have similar efficacy but a better toxicity profile.

Bearing in mind that almost all currently available treatments are the result of clinical research, the importance of clinical trials is obvious.

The IVO has a clinical trials unit for all types of tumours and participates in phase 1-3 studies as well as other types of studies.

Living with thyroid cancer

coping with the diagnosis and receiving treatment and psychological support

Whether you receive the news of an initial diagnosis of cancer or a relapse, coping with cancer can be emotionally overwhelming. Each person has their own way of coping with a thyroid cancer diagnosis, but there are some recommendations that can help you through this process:

  • Maintain communication and the company of family and friends, the people closest to the patient, who can provide a support network throughout the process
  • Talk to other people who have survived cancer or who are in the same situation. There are many local and national associations and support groups. The Spanish Association Against Cancer (Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer) is perhaps the best-known one.
  • Inform yourself in order to make the best decisions about treatment and medical professionals.

Early Diagnosis

Nuclear Medicine


Radiation Therapy