Thyroid Cancer: Survival Rates and Prognosis

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After a thyroid cancer diagnosis, there’s a lot of information to process. The cancer’s stage is an important piece of your diagnosis. Staging helps guide thyroid cancer treatment. The cancer’s stage is also one of factors doctors use to help you understand your thyroid cancer prognosis. In general, thyroid cancer has a better outlook compared to other types of cancers. Here’s a look at the survival rates for the different types and stages of thyroid cancer.

Estimating Survival Rates

Cancer survival is often presented as a 5-year relative survival rate. It looks at people with a certain type of cancer and compares them to people without the cancer. The rate measures the number of people living five years after the cancer diagnosis and people still living in the general population without the cancer. For example, a 95% 5-year relative survival rate means people with the specific cancer are 95% as likely as people without the cancer to be alive five years after diagnosis. It applies to the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

Keep in mind, researchers look at large groups of people when they calculate survival rates. So, these rates are only estimates or guidelines. They can’t tell you how long you will live because each person’s circumstances are different. Your prognosis will depend on factors other than the cancer’s stage. Your age, overall health, and the cancer’s response treatment will also play a role.

What’s more, cancer treatments continue to improve. Survival rates are often from data that is 5 to 10 years old. Today’s treatments are likely to be more effective than the treatments people used years ago.

Thyroid Cancer Stages in Survival Rates

Thyroid cancer isn’t just one disease. There are multiple types of thyroid cancer. Each type has its own staging using a method called the ACJJ TNM system. However, the data researchers use for survival rates doesn’t follow the ACJJ TNM system. Instead, the data are grouped into the following stage categories:

  • Localized: Cancer is only in the thyroid.
  • Regional: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or structures.
  • Distant: Cancer has spread to remote lymph nodes or parts of the body. This represents thyroid cancer metastasis.

The most recent survival rate data for thyroid cancer are from 2009 to 2015.

Papillary Thyroid Cancer Survival Rate

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer prognosis is often better than for other types of thyroid cancer. This is especially true for people younger than 55. People in this age group with papillary thyroid cancer are less likely to die than older people with papillary thyroid cancer.

The 5-year survival rates for papillary thyroid cancer are as follows:

  • Localized: nearly 100%
  • Regional: 99%
  • Distant: 78%

Follicular Thyroid Cancer Survival Rate

Follicular thyroid cancer is much less common than papillary thyroid cancer. But it is similar to papillary cancer. It often has a better prognosis than for other types of thyroid cancer, especially in people younger than 55.

The 5-year survival rates for follicular thyroid cancer are as follows:

  • Localized: nearly 100%
  • Regional: 96%
  • Distant: 63%

Medullary Thyroid Cancer Survival Rate

Only 4% of thyroid cancers are medullary thyroid cancer. Compared to papillary and follicular cancers, medullary thyroid cancer can be hard to find. It is more likely to have spread at the time of diagnosis.

The 5-year survival rates for medullary thyroid cancer are as follows:

  • Localized: nearly 100%
  • Regional: 90%
  • Distant: 39%

Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer Survival Rate

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is rare, but aggressive. This cancer grows and spreads quickly, often with signs of thyroid cancer metastasis at diagnosis. It is also difficult to treat and generally has a poor prognosis. Anaplastic thyroid cancer accounts for about 1% of all thyroid cancers.

The 5-year survival rates for anaplastic thyroid cancer are as follows:

  • Localized: 31%
  • Regional: 12%
  • Distant: 4%

If you are facing a thyroid cancer diagnosis, talk with your doctor about your outlook. Your doctor is the most reliable source for information on your prognosis. He or she is best able to help you understand what these numbers mean in your situation.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Apr 8
  1. Thyroid Cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology.
  2. Thyroid Cancer Stages. American Cancer Society.
  3. Thyroid Cancer Survival Rates by Type and Stage. American Cancer Society.
  4. Thyroid Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.
  5. What Is Thyroid Cancer? American Cancer Society.
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