Pediatric Thyroid Cancer

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones that are important for growth and metabolism. Pediatric thyroid cancer (also called thyroid carcinoma) occurs when the cells in the thyroid gland become abnormal and grow out of control. 

Thyroid cancer is an uncommon cancer in children. It is often first detected as a lump in the front of the neck found by the child, a parent, or by a physician during a routine examination. Although these cancers can spread – usually to the lymph nodes in the neck or less often to the lungs – most children with thyroid cancer respond very well to treatment. 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.

There are several types of thyroid cancer:

  • 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. Papillary carcinoma is most common, while follicular carcinoma is less common.
  • 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 there is a familial form in which children may develop medullary thyroid carcinoma early in childhood or even in infancy.
  • Anaplastic thyroid cancer is an extremely rare type of thyroid cancer that occurs almost exclusively in adults. 

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches thyroid cancer

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

Our Thyroid Center 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.