Because medullary thyroid cancer is rare, you’re probably unaware of the cancer’s prognosis. Fortunately, with early detection, the outlook for curing medullary thyroid cancer is good.

According to an early study, the survival for medullary thyroid cancer over 10 years is about 75 percent.

Certain factors improve the outlook for medullary thyroid cancer. Among the most important are age and the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

Younger individuals diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer tend to have a better outlook. According to National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guidelines, individuals who are 40 or younger at diagnosis have five- and 10-year survival outlooks of 95 percent and 75 percent. For those older than 40, thefive- and 10-year survival outlooks are 65 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

The prognosis declines drastically once the cancer advances and spreads to distant organs. Early diagnosis is key to having the most positive outlook for medullary thyroid cancer. Here are the latest prognosis statistics related to stage:

  • Stage 1: Prognosis is extremely good at this stage when the tumor is less than 2 centimeters across, and hasn’t grown beyond the thyroid. According to one study, 100 percent of people diagnosed at this stage are alive after 10 years.
  • Stage 2: At stage 2, the tumor is either larger than 2 centimeters, but is still located in the thyroid, or has spread to other tissue outside of the thyroid, but not to the lymph nodes. About 93 percent of people diagnosed at this stage are alive after 10 years.
  • Stage 3: The tumor has expanded beyond the thyroid to nearby lymph nodes or the voice box in stage 3. About 71 percent of people diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer in stage 3 were alive after 10 years.
  • Stage 4: In this stage, the tumor has spread into neck tissues under the skin, the trachea, esophagus, the larynx, or distant parts of the body such as the lungs or bones. The 10-year outlook significantly declines at this point: Only 21 percent of people diagnosed at this stage are alive after 10 years.

The outlook for those whose cancer hasn’t spread beyond the neck is much more promising than people whose cancer has metastasized. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that 89 percent of patients with tumors sized 2 centimeters or smaller and no distant metastases have a positive outlook.

It’s difficult to predict how fast metastatic medullary thyroid cancer will progress. Though it isn’t curable once it has metastasized, palliative treatments such as targeted chemotherapy and radiation can slow the cancer’s growth and improve quality of life.

Of course, everyone’s cancer and situation is unique. It’s important to work with your doctor to understand and assess your circumstances, and your resulting needs and outlook.