What Does it Mean to have “Differentiated Thyroid Cancer”?

What Does it Mean to have “Differentiated Thyroid Cancer”?

In my previous blog, I described a number of subtypes of thyroid cancer. What if your doctor told you that you had “differentiated thyroid cancer”, or if you read that in one of your medical records? What does that mean?

If your doctor tells you that you have “differentiated thyroid cancer,” it means that you have a specific category of thyroid cancer. This category includes two main types: papillary carcinoma and follicular carcinoma. The term “differentiated” is used because the cancer cells still have some similarities to normal thyroid cells.

In differentiated thyroid cancer, the cancer cells retain certain functions and characteristics similar to healthy thyroid cells. They may still produce thyroid hormones, respond to specific treatments like radioactive iodine, and have a recognizable appearance when viewed under a microscope.

Compared to other types of thyroid cancer, like medullary carcinoma or anaplastic carcinoma, differentiated thyroid cancer is generally less aggressive. It often has a better prognosis, meaning there is a higher chance of successful treatment and long-term survival.

The term “differentiated” emphasizes that the cancer cells still resemble normal thyroid tissue in certain ways. This is important because it allows for better response to treatments that specifically target the features of the thyroid cancer cells. This classification helps doctors make decisions about how to manage and treat differentiated thyroid cancer.

The treatment for differentiated thyroid cancer is personalized based on factors such as the specific subtype of cancer, the stage of the cancer, the patient’s age and overall health, and the patient’s preferences. Common treatment options include surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland, radioactive iodine therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells, and thyroid hormone replacement therapy to maintain proper thyroid function. In some cases, additional treatments like external beam radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or chemotherapy may be recommended.

After treatment, it’s important to regularly monitor for any signs of recurrence or spreading of the cancer. This usually involves periodic blood tests, imaging scans, and physical examinations. Patients will often need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication because the thyroid gland may no longer be able to produce enough hormones. It’s also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, keep up with follow-up appointments with healthcare providers, and be aware of any potential signs or symptoms of the cancer returning.


Differentiated thyroid cancer, which includes papillary carcinoma and follicular carcinoma, is the most common type of thyroid cancer. Although it can be challenging, most patients have a good prognosis with the right treatment and ongoing care. By understanding the characteristics of the cancer, the diagnosis process, and the available treatment options, individuals and their support networks can play an active role in their healthcare decisions. By staying informed, maintaining open communication with healthcare professionals, and having hope, patients can face differentiated thyroid cancer with resilience, knowing that effective treatments and ongoing care are available for a brighter future.