Thyroid cancer typically has a good outcome following standard treatments, which include surgery, radioactive iodine ablation and treatment with TSH-suppressive levothyroxine. Thyroid cancers that persist or recur following these therapies have a poorer prognosis. Activation of mitogenic and angiogenic signaling pathways occurs in these cancers, and preclinical models have shown that inhibition of key kinase steps in these pathways can have antitumoral effects. Several of these kinase inhibitors have now been tested in phase II and phase III trials, with modestly encouraging results. Some promising data exist for the use of vandetanib (also known as ZD6474), motesanib, axitinib, cabozantinib (also known as XL184), sorafenib, sunitinib, pazopanib and lenvatinib (also known as E7080) in progressive thyroid cancer of medullary, papillary and follicular subtypes. These drugs are generally well-tolerated, although dose-limiting toxicities are common, and a few (probable) treatment-related deaths have been reported. Additional phase III trials will be needed to conclusively show that treatment benefit exceeds risk. Drug resistance can occur via activation of alternate mitogenic signals (pathway switching), as has been reported for the use of kinase inhibitors in other malignancies, such as melanoma. The hypothesis that combinations of kinase inhibitors targeting different pathways might produce better results is currently being tested in several clinical trials.