Basically cancer is divided into four stages, depending on the size and the spread of the tumor4: Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type accounting for 70-80% of cases. It is a slow-growing tumor with a tendency to spread into the lymph nodes in the neck. It can affect people of all age groups.5 Follicular thyroid cancer comprising 10 to 15% of all thyroid cancers is also slow-growing and can spread into lymph nodes, the blood and further tissues. Special targets are bones and the lungs. This type of cancer is more likely to affect older individuals. Both forms respond well to treatment and many patients can be cured.5 Medullary thyroid cancer makes up about 5-10% and usually presents with abnormally high levels of calcitonin. It is slow-growing and hereditary. A gene mutation in the so called RET proto-oncogene can be passed from parent to child. Therefore family members of a patient with medullary thyroid cancer should take a test for the genetic mutation.5 If detected before invading other tissues, medullary cancer can be cured.Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the least common type of thyroid cancers accounting for less than 2%. It is a fast-growing tumor that spreads quickly and is difficult to treat.5

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Thyroid cancer is a rare disease. In the 27 countries of the European Union the incidence rate per year is 12.1 per 100,000 men and women, in the USA 19.7. The lowest incidence is found in Asia with 5.2 (Western Asia) and in Africa with 2.1 (Middle Africa).6