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Thyroid cancer


What is thyroid cancer?

Thyroid cancer occurs when cells grow and divide in an abnormal way in the thyroid, a gland found at the front of the throat under the voice box. There are four main types of thyroid cancer, but the most common types are papillary (70-80% of diagnoses) and follicular (15-20% of diagnoses). The less common types are medullary and anaplastic, which make up 4% and 1% of thyroid cancer diagnoses.

You can access further information about thyroid cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is thyroid cancer?

In 2020, 658 Victorians were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Of these, there were 194 males and 464 females, representing 29.5% and 70.5% of the total Victorian thyroid cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, thyroid cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 4.2 per 100,000 males and 10.4 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of thyroid cancer is 55 years in males and 49 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 1.9% of all cancers diagnosed and 0.3% of all cancer-related deaths in 2020, thyroid cancer was the 13th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 31st most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria.


Figure 1: Distribution of thyroid cancer incidence in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of thyroid cancer incidence in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Thyroid cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused thyroid cancer among all cases. Most thyroid cancer tumours, 80.1%, present as Papillary carcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of thyroid cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Geographical variance in thyroid cancer by local government area

Figure 5 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of thyroid cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of thyroid cancer.


Figure 5: Variation in the incidence of thyroid cancer for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Thyroid cancer in people born overseas

Figure 6 shows the age standardised incidence rates of thyroid cancer in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for thyroid cancer was 5.3 for males born in the Middle East and North Africa region and the lowest rate of 2.8 was observed in males born in the Africa region. The highest age standardised incidence rate for thyroid cancer was 14.4 for females born in the Middle East and North Africa region and the lowest rate of 6.2 was observed in females born in the UK and Ireland region.


Figure 6: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for thyroid cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Thyroid cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 7 shows the change in 5-year survival for thyroid cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for thyroid cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 80% to 95%.

Figure 7: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of thyroid cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022