Thyroid cancer is one of the few malignancies that are increasing in incidence. Recent advances have improved our understanding of its pathogenesis; these include the identification of genetic alterations that activate a common effector pathway involving the RET-Ras-BRAF signalling cascade, and other unique chromosomal rearrangements. Some of these have been associated with radiation exposure as a pathogenetic mechanism. Defects in transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of adhesion molecules and cell-cycle control elements seem to affect tumour progression. This information can provide powerful ancillary diagnostic tools and can also be used to identify new therapeutic targets.