Thyroid Cancer

Submit request or call to make an appointment.

Specialized care for kids with diabetes, thyroid conditions and other endocrinology concerns. Contact us with your pediatrician’s referral.

Thyroid cancer in children is uncommon. When it does develop, it is very treatable. The survival rate for pediatric thyroid cancer is as high as 99%.

Whether a doctor suspects your child may have cancer or a cancer diagnosis has been confirmed, it can be an overwhelming time for your family. Understanding your child’s condition and the outlook for the future can help you support your family and prepare for the future ahead.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. It makes hormones that regulate nearly every system in the body, including how fast or slow the heart pumps and brain activity.

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute and Norton Children’s Endocrinology, both affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, bring the latest advances in thyroid cancer care to their extensive experience and training. They are specially trained in caring for the unique needs of children and their families.

Children diagnosed with thyroid cancer receive care from a multidisciplinary team of pediatric oncologists, pediatric endocrinologists and other specialists who work together to create and carry out a customized care plan that includes not only medical care but also supportive care for behavioral and mental health needs.

Thyroid Cancers That Can Develop in Children

  • Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer in children. Papillary cancer begins in the cells of the thyroid gland. This type of cancer grows very slowly but can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and, rarely, other parts of the body. Papillary cancer is more common in teen girls than boys.
  • Follicular thyroid cancer is less common than papillary cancer but more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
  • Medullary thyroid cancer is rare. It begins in cells that make calcitonin, a hormone that helps control calcium in the blood. This type of cancer usually runs in families.

Childhood Thyroid Cancer Symptoms

The first symptom of thyroid cancer in a child is often a lump, or nodule, that can be felt in the neck. In most cases, an enlarged thyroid or nodules are a symptom of a less serious condition and are rarely cancer.

A nodule requires regular thyroid exams and ultrasounds to check for changes in size. If the nodule changes, the child may need a fine-needle aspiration biopsy. This test removes a small amount of the nodule for testing.

A cancerous tumor can cause neck swelling, hoarseness, trouble swallowing and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

Children who have been treated with radiation, such as from previous treatment for head or neck cancer, are more likely to get thyroid cancer. Other risk factors include:

  • Autoimmune thyroid disease such as Hashimoto thyroiditis
  • Family history of thyroid cancer
  • Genetic diseases associated with cancers

Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Cancer in Children

At Norton Children’s, your child’s endocrinologist, oncologist and other pediatric specialists will work together as a team to diagnose your child and create a customized treatment plan.

Blood tests will help show how the thyroid is working. An ultrasound can show the number of nodules and their sizes, whether the nodules are solid or filled with fluid, and whether there has been any spread to lymph nodes.

Fine-needle aspiration is the best way to diagnose thyroid cancer. Using ultrasound to locate the nodule precisely, the area is numbed and a thin needle is inserted to get a sample of the nodule. Pathologists then examine the sample to determine whether it is cancerous.

If there is cancer, a surgeon will remove part or all of the thyroid gland. A radioactive iodine scan and therapy may be needed to destroy any remaining thyroid cancer cells.

After treatment, most children need to take thyroid replacement hormone pills and likely continue to see a pediatric specialist yearly to monitor for recurrence or complications.

The vast majority of children treated for thyroid cancer have excellent long-term results. Choosing Norton Children’s means your child will be treated by one of the most experienced cancer centers in our region, giving you peace of mind that your child’s health is in good hands.

The Norton Children’s Difference

Norton Children’s Hospital’s cancer care program is one of the oldest oncology programs in the U.S. that has been continuously accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. Backed by our pediatric physicians’ more than 100 years of combined expertise, we have a proven cancer care team of leading specialists, including oncologists, surgeons, nurses, social workers, chaplains, behaviorists, therapists and pharmacists. This skilled, multidisciplinary team is entirely focused on the needs of your child and family.

In addition, we are home to:

  • Kentucky’s leading multidisciplinary pediatric brain tumor program
  • Kentucky’s only pediatric apheresis and pediatric photopheresis programs
  • An immunotherapy program
  • One of the country’s largest sickle cell anemia treatment programs
  • Adolescent and youg adult program; adolescent and young adult transition clinic
  • Kentucky’s only CAR-T cell therapy treatment for pediatric patients
  • Life after cancer survivorship program
  • Pediatric bleeding and clotting program (hemostasis and thrombosis)

Related Stories

Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute sports program a home run for teen with diabetes
Louisville teen becomes a diabetes ‘pioneer’
Norton Healthcare, Norton Children’s expand services in Westport Plaza
New devices offer more options than ever to manage blood sugar