Follicular Thyroid Cancer

Follicular thyroid cancer occurs in the thyroid gland, which makes hormones that control metabolism. It is highly treatable and often curable. Healthcare providers typically treat this cancer with surgery, followed by radiation or systemic therapy depending on the cancer’s stage. After surgery, you may need thyroid hormone replacement therapy.


What is follicular thyroid cancer?

Follicular thyroid cancer is a type of thyroid cancer. Your thyroid is a gland in your neck and is part of your endocrine system. It makes hormones that help control your metabolism and blood calcium levels. When cells in your thyroid grow in ways they shouldn’t, thyroid cancers can develop.


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What are the different types of thyroid cancer?

There are four types of thyroid cancer:

Pathologists examine the cancer cells under a microscope to diagnose which type of thyroid cancer it is. Thyroid cancers may be:

  • Well-differentiated: These thyroid tumors are treatable and often curable. Follicular thyroid cancer and papillary thyroid cancer are well-differentiated cancers.
  • Undifferentiated: These tumors are harder to treat. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare, undifferentiated cancer and is the most aggressive type of thyroid cancer.

What is the difference between follicular thyroid cancer and papillary thyroid cancer?

These two types of thyroid cancers are fairly similar. They both start in the follicular cells of your thyroid gland. Papillary thyroid cancer is more likely to spread to your lymph nodes than follicular thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is also more common than follicular thyroid cancer.


What is the difference between follicular thyroid cancer and medullary thyroid cancer?

Medullary thyroid cancers are neuroendocrine tumors. This cancer occurs in the C-cells of your thyroid and often runs in families. C-cells make calcitonin, which regulates calcium levels in your blood. Medullary thyroid cancers are more aggressive and less differentiated than follicular thyroid cancers. They are more likely to spread to lymph nodes and other areas of your body.

Who does follicular thyroid cancer affect?

Anyone can get follicular thyroid cancer, but it occurs more often in older women.


How common is follicular thyroid cancer?

Between 10% and 15% of all thyroid cancers are follicular thyroid cancer. Most people with thyroid cancer have papillary thyroid cancer (between 70% and 80% of all thyroid cancers).

How will follicular thyroid cancer affect me?

Follicular thyroid cancer can sometimes cause a lump or pain in your neck. If your healthcare provider diagnoses cancer early, treatment may cure you. Without treatment, follicular cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts of your body. Metastasized cancer is harder to treat.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of follicular thyroid cancer?

You might not have any symptoms of follicular thyroid cancer. But you might have:

What causes follicular thyroid cancer?

Follicular cancer happens when cells in the thyroid gland grow in ways they shouldn’t. Healthcare providers don’t always know why these cancers occur. Thyroid cancer is more common in people who were exposed to radiation, like if you had radiation therapy or work near radiation.

Is follicular thyroid cancer contagious?

Follicular thyroid cancer is not contagious.

How long does it take for follicular thyroid cancer to spread?

There’s no way to know if follicular thyroid cancer will spread or how long it will take. Metastasis can happen right away or after a few years.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose follicular thyroid cancer?

Your healthcare provider may notice a lump in your neck during a physical examination. Providers may also find a nodule during imaging tests for other conditions. Your provider might find or confirm a nodule during:

What tests do healthcare providers use to make a follicular thyroid cancer diagnosis?

Many thyroid nodules are noncancerous (benign). If your healthcare provider thinks a nodule may be cancer, they may recommend a fine needle biopsy. Experts in cytology examine fluid from the nodule under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat follicular thyroid cancer?

Providers treat most follicular thyroid cancers with surgery. They may remove:

  • Part of the gland where the tumor is (lobectomy).
  • The entire gland (total thyroidectomy).
  • Nearby lymph nodes, if cancer has spread to your lymph nodes.

What other treatments do healthcare providers use for follicular thyroid cancer?

Depending on what stage cancer is in and if it has spread to other organs, your provider may recommend additional treatment after surgery. This can include:

Are there side effects of follicular thyroid cancer treatment?

Cancer treatments can cause different side effects. You might have:

How long will I need treatment for follicular thyroid cancer?

Your healthcare provider will check your response to treatment. When cancer is no longer present, you won’t need active treatment anymore. If healthcare providers remove your thyroid gland, you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication to stay healthy.


How can I reduce my risk of follicular thyroid cancer?

You can’t do much to reduce your risk of developing follicular thyroid cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have a family history of cancer or other risk factors. They can discuss any preventive steps you need to take.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have follicular thyroid cancer?

Talk with your healthcare provider about what stage cancer is in and the recommended treatment plan. Your provider can help you manage treatment side effects so you can continue to work and participate in daily activities.

Is follicular thyroid cancer curable?

Follicular thyroid cancer is often curable, especially if diagnosed early. Talk to your healthcare provider right away if you:

  • Notice any thyroid cancer symptoms.
  • Have risk factors for thyroid cancer.

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I have follicular thyroid cancer?

See your healthcare provider for follow-up care after you finish treatment. Your provider may recommend certain blood tests to monitor thyroid hormone levels to make sure cancer isn’t coming back (recurring).

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Follicular thyroid cancer is highly treatable and often curable. Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice a lump on your neck or have trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing. Your provider may treat follicular thyroid cancer with surgery, followed by radiation therapy or systemic therapy.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 06/28/2022.

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