Key Points about Follicular Thyroid Cancer

  • Follicular thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland's follicular cells. These are located in the base of the neck.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, genetic testing, blood tests and physical exam to diagnose follicular thyroid cancer.
  • Treatment for follicular thyroid cancer may involve surgery to remove the entire thyroid gland, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that help your body regulate digestion and metabolism of foods. Compared to other types of cancer, thyroid cancer is fairly rare.

Follicular thyroid cancer begins in the follicular cells, and it typically affects people over age 50. Hürthle cell cancer is a rare, aggressive type of follicular thyroid cancer.

Follicular thyroid cancer causes

Follicular thyroid cancer is caused by a mutation (change) to the DNA of the follicular thyroid cells.

Follicular thyroid cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing follicular thyroid cancer:

  • Being female
  • Having certain inherited genetic syndromes
  • Having undergone radiation therapy for head and neck cancer

Follicular thyroid cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of follicular thyroid cancer can include:

  • Changes in your voice
  • Hoarseness
  • Lump or nodule on or near the thyroid gland
  • Pain in your neck, ear or jaw
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

Follicular thyroid cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose follicular thyroid cancer:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from your thyroid gland. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Blood tests - your doctor may order blood tests to help determine if your thyroid gland is functioning normally.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - your doctor may order a CT scan of your head. This specialized imaging test uses a series of X-ray images to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests help your doctor determine if the cancer has spread beyond your thyroid gland.
  • Genetic testing - because some types of thyroid cancer have a genetic link, your doctor may suggest you (and perhaps your close family members) undergo genetic testing.
  • Ultrasound - your doctor may order an ultrasound, an imaging test that uses sound waves to create detailed images of your head. Imaging tests help your doctor determine if the cancer has spread beyond your thyroid gland.

Follicular thyroid cancer treatment

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your follicular thyroid cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Thyroidectomy - the usual treatment for people with thyroid cancer is the surgical removal of the thyroid gland. After you have your thyroid gland removed, you will need to take thyroid medication for the rest of your life to replace the hormones that the thyroid usually secretes.
  • Chemotherapy - this treatment involves the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered orally (a pill taken by mouth) or an intravenous, or IV, liquid (injected into a vein). You may need to undergo chemotherapy after surgery so that your doctor can destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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