Cancer - thyroid (medullary carcinoma) - Comprehensive articles covering over 1,700 topics. The articles are organized by the disease, condition overview, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

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Cancer - thyroid (medullary carcinoma)


Medullary carcinoma of the thyroid is cancer of the thyroid gland that starts in cells that release a hormone called calcitonin. Such cells are called "C" cells.

Alternative Names

Thyroid - medullary carcinoma; Cancer - thyroid (medullary carcinoma); MTC


The cause is unknown. Unlike other types of thyroid cancer, medullary carcinoma of the thyroid (MTC) is believed to be related to radiation therapy (a type of cancer treatment).

There are two forms of MTC:

  • Sporadic MTC does not run in families. The majority of MTCs are sporadic. This form mainly affects older adults.
  • Inherited MTC runs in families.

You have an increased risk of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid if you have:

Other types of thyroid cancer include:


  • Lump on thyroid gland
  • Breathing problems due to narrowing of airways
  • Goiter
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Cough with blood

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. Lymph nodes in the neck may be swollen. Thyroid function tests are usually normal. However, an examination of the thyroid may reveal single or multiple nodules.

Other tests that may be used to diagnose medullary carcinoma of the thyroid include:

  • Thyroid biopsy
  • Ultrasound of the thyroid
  • Thyroid scan
  • Calcitonin blood test


Treatment involves surgery to remove the thyroid gland and surrounding lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation do not work very well for this type of cancer.

Support Groups

For additional information, see cancer support groups.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Approximately 86% of those with medullary carcinoma of the thyroid live at least 5 years after diagnosis. The 10-year survival rate is 65%.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Cancer spreads to other areas of the body
  • Parathyroid glands are accidentally removed during surgery

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms of medullary carcinoma of the thyroid develop.


Prevention may not be possible. However, being aware of your risk factors, especially your family history, may allow for early diagnosis and treatment.

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