Thyroid Cancer in Children and Teenagers

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 6/13/2018 12:00:00 AM

Although not as common as leukemias and brain tumors, thyroid cancer is the third most common solid tumor cancer type in children (Solid tumor cancers are those that produce a tumor mass, rather than leukemias that produce cancerous cells that circulate in the bloodstream). Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer of hormone glands (endocrine) in children. Still, thyroid cancer represents only 1% to 1.5% of all pediatric cancers. Of all cases of thyroid cancer, about 5% occur in children and teens.

As in adults, a thyroid nodule (localized lump or mass) is a common symptom of thyroid cancer. Thyroid nodules that develop in children and adolescents are even more likely to be cancerous than thyroid masses in adults. In adults with thyroid nodules, only about 5% turn out to be cancer. In children and teens, that percentage increases to over 26%. All children or teens who develop a lump in the thyroid or neck should be evaluated by a physician in order to ensure early diagnosis and treatment if cancer is indeed present. The prognosis is usually excellent for children who have cancer that has not spread outside of the thyroid gland.

In adults, thyroid cancer is 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men, but this distinction is less relevant for children. Girls under age 15 are somewhat more likely than boys to develop thyroid cancer and have 1.5 times the risk of boys. In adolescents over 15 years old, girls are 3 times more likely to get thyroid cancer than boys.

As mentioned, a neck lump or mass is the most common symptom of thyroid cancer in children. The mass is typically not painful. Enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck may also occur. Children with thyroid cancer are not as likely as adults to have symptoms that are sometimes associated with thyroid cancers like vocal cord paralysis, hoarseness, breathing problems, or problems with swallowing. Still, affected children can occasionally develop these types of symptoms.

Many children with thyroid cancer have a family history of the condition. Thyroid cancer can be associated with certain inherited syndromes, like the multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes. Up to 25% of a particular form of thyroid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, are hereditary.

As with adults, surgery is the mainstay of treatment for thyroid cancer in children. Fortunately, the prognosis is usually very good for children with thyroid cancer. Depending upon the type of cancer and extent of spread, radioactive iodine treatments, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy may be given after surgery. Replacement thyroid hormone in pill form may be required for life after treatment.


"Childhood Cancers." National Cancer Institute. 10 Jan. 2008.

"Fact Sheet: Pediatric Thyroid Cancer." American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery. Jan. 2012.

Gerber, Mark E., et al. "Pediatric Thyroid Cancer." Medscape. 5 Apr. 2011.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors