The outlook for thyroid cancer depends on various factors, such as the stage and type. However, with most types of thyroid cancer, the outlook is positive in the early stages.

The 5-year relative survival rate for most types of localized thyroid cancer is over 99.5%. The exception to this is anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is much more aggressive.

This article discusses the prognosis for thyroid cancer, including survival rates by stage, type, age, and recurrence. It also looks at other factors that influence the outlook.

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According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), most thyroid cancer is curable, particularly if it has not spread to distant body parts. Surgery frequently results in a cure.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) maintains the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, which provides statistics for different types and stages of cancer.

To measure survival, SEER uses 5-year relative survival rates. This metric represents how many people with a specific type and stage of cancer survived for at least 5 years in comparison to individuals their age without the disease.

SEER splits thyroid cancer cases into three stages:

  • localized, which means the cancer is only present in the thyroid gland
  • regional, which means the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid gland to nearby structures
  • distant, which means the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid gland to distant body parts

The following data for thyroid cancer comes from people who had the condition between 2012 and 2018:

Thyroid cancer typeStage5-year relative survival
Papillarylocalizedgreater than 99.5%
all stages combinedgreater than 99.5%
Follicularlocalizedgreater than 99.5%
all stages combined98%
Medullarylocalizedgreater than 99.5%
all stages combined91%
all stages combined8%

It is worth noting that while the survival rates for the anaplastic type are not favorable, it is a rare cancer. Additionally, since this data is not current, it may not represent the latest advancements in cancer treatment.

A 2015 study evaluated survival rates for thyroid cancer by age. It found that the mortality rate progressively increases the older someone is.

This finding concurs with the SEER percentages of thyroid cancer deaths according to age from the NCI, which are as follows:

AgePercentage of deaths
20–34 0.7%
older than 8419%

A 2021 study states that recurrence following surgery is the primary cause of death in thyroid cancer. However, recurrence is generally uncommon.

In the study, only 6.9% of the 624 cases of papillary thyroid cancer the researchers analyzed experienced a recurrence. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type.

Survival statistics for this scenario are scarce, but an older study from 2001 investigated the prognosis of people with papillary cancer who had a recurrence in the lymph nodes.

The study found that the outlook depends on age. Individuals whose age was 45 and younger had a 5-year survival rate of 100%, while those whose age was over 45 years had a 5-year survival rate of 61.1%.

As this data is over 20 years old, survival rates for thyroid cancer recurrence may have shown improvement. Additionally, the cancer’s location and response to further treatments will affect the outlook.

In addition to age, cancer stage, and cancer type, other factors influence the outlook for thyroid cancer. They include:

  • tumor size
  • tumor location
  • whether it has spread to lymph nodes
  • whether surgical removal is possible
  • individual response to treatment

The prognosis for most types of thyroid cancer is generally positive, particularly in the early stages. Treatment can cure most cases if the cancer has not spread beyond the thyroid region.

The 5-year relative survival rate of localized and regional stages of papillary, follicular, and medullary thyroid cancer is 92% and higher. In contrast, the rate for a rare type known as anaplastic thyroid cancer is 39% when localized and 11% when regional.

Other factors that influence prognosis include age, recurrence, general health, and response to treatment.