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What Is Childhood Thyroid Cancer?

  • Childhood thyroid cancer occurs when the cells in the thyroid gland become abnormal and grow out of control. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that are important for growth and metabolism. Thyroid cancer is rare in children. It is often first detected as a lump in the front of the neck. Thyroid cancer in children does not behave the same as it does in adult patients, and outcomes in children are generally better than in adults.

    The three main types of childhood thyroid cancer are:

    • Differentiated thyroid carcinoma includes two different types—papillary thyroid carcinoma and follicular thyroid carcinoma—both of which develop in the cells of the thyroid gland that normally produce thyroid hormone.
    • Medullary thyroid carcinoma is very rare and develops in thyroid cells that do not produce thyroid hormone. It typically affects patients over age 20, but a familial form of the disease can affect children early in childhood or even in infancy.
    • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is an extremely rare type of thyroid cancer that occurs almost exclusively in adults.

    Thyroid cancer treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    Children and teens with thyroid cancer are treated by an integrated multi-disciplinary team that includes the Boston Children’s Hospital Thyroid Program and the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Rare Tumors Treatment Program.

    the Boston Children's Hospital Thyroid Program is one of the only centers in the United States devoted exclusively to the care of children with thyroid diseases. The specialists in this multidisciplinary program have expertise in thyroid ultrasound, fine needle aspiration, thyroid surgery, nuclear medicine imaging, and radioactive iodine therapy.

    Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is one of the largest pediatric cancer programs in the world. The breadth of our expertise allows us to assemble a team of experts to meet the specific needs of our individual patients, even those with very rare tumors.