Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) is the most commonly used pre-operative technique for diagnosis of malignant thyroid tumor. However, many benign lesions, with indeterminate diagnosis following FNA, are referred to surgery. Based on multifunctionality of the endogenous galectin-1, we aimed to assess its status for early diagnosis of thyroid cancer. Immunohistochemistry for galectin-1 and -3 was performed on a clinical series of 69 cases of thyroid lesions. Galectin-1 expression was further examined in two additional tissue microarrays (TMA) composed of 66 follicular adenomas and 66 papillary carcinomas in comparison to galectin-3 and cytokeratin-19 (CK19). In addition, a knockdown of galectin-1 in papillary (TPC-1) and anaplastic (8505C) thyroid cancer cell lines was achieved by lentiviral transduction for in vitro experiments. A murine orthotopic thyroid cancer model was used to investigate tumor growth and metastatic ability. Immunohistochemical analyses of galectin-1 and -3 in the series of 69 cases of thyroid lesions revealed that galectin-1 was completely absent in the epithelial compartment of all benign thyroid lesions. Levels of both galectins significantly increased in the cytoplasmic compartment of malignant thyroid cells. Galectin-1 expression in the TMA yielded an excellent specificity (97%), while galectin-3 and CK19 presented a higher sensitivity (>97%) in discriminating benign from malignant thyroid lesions. In vitro experiments revealed that migration was negatively affected in TPC-1 galectin-1 knockdown (KD) cells, and that proliferation and invasion capacity of 8505C cells decreased after galectin-1 KD. Moreover, an orthotopic mouse model displayed a lower rate of tumor development with galectin-1 KD thyroid anaplastic cancer cells than in the control. Our findings support the introduction of galectin-1 as a reliable diagnostic marker for thyroid carcinomas. Its involvement in cell proliferation, migration, invasion and tumor growth also intimate functional involvement of galectin-1 in the progression of thyroid carcinoma, suggesting its potential as a therapeutic target.