Thyroid Cancer

Dr. Marie-Louise Healy

Consultant Endocrinologist

Consultant Image

The Thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck. It is an endocrine gland and makes thyroid hormones, which are released into the bloodstream and affect cells and tissues in other parts of the body, helping them to function normally. 

Nodules (lumps) within the thyroid gland are very common.  Most turn out to be benign (non-cancerous).

Thyroid Cancer is rare, but numbers are rising. There are approximately 160 new cases in Ireland each year. It is more common in women than men, at a ratio of 2 to 1. Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine malignancy.

Prognosis for patients with differentiated thyroid cancer is excellent, with an 80–90% cure rate. Most can be treated very successfully with surgery, radioactive iodine or a combination of both.

The Endocrinology Unit at St. James’s Hospital provides a complete diagnostic, treatment and follow-up service for patients with thyroid cancer. This service works within the Multidisciplinary Thyroid Cancer Team, which includes endocrinologists, surgeons, physicists and nursing support. Every year, 40 to 50 new patients are diagnosed and treatment for differentiated thyroid cancer at our unit at St. James’s Hospital. After surgery, each case is discussed at the Multi-Disciplinary Meeting to decide on an appropriate treatment plan.

What is Thyroid Cancer?

Cancer of the thyroid gland is rare. It can now be diagnosed early due to better diagnostic techniques. The most common thyroid cancers are known as “differentiated”.  These include Papillary and Follicular cancers.  These types of cancer are usually treated with surgery and radioactive iodine treatment (RAI). Other less common types of thyroid cancers are Medullary, Anaplastic and Lymphoma. These have a different treatment protocol.                  

  • Papillary Carcinoma is the most common thyroid cancer.  It is more common in younger people, particularly women.
  • Follicular Carcinoma is less common and tends to occur in slightly older people.
  • Medullary Carcinoma is a rare cancer that is sometimes hereditary (passed down through a family from one generation to the next).

Most thyroid cancers are very treatable and curable, but it is possible that they will recur.   A recurrence can be treated successfully, so lifelong follow up is most important.