Overview of the 2022 WHO Classification of Thyroid Neoplasms

Endocr Pathol. 2022 Mar;33(1):27-63. doi: 10.1007/s12022-022-09707-3. Epub 2022 Mar 14.


This review summarizes the changes in the 5th edition of the WHO Classification of Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Tumors that relate to the thyroid gland. The new classification has divided thyroid tumors into several new categories that allow for a clearer understanding of the cell of origin, pathologic features (cytopathology and histopathology), molecular classification, and biological behavior. Follicular cell-derived tumors constitute the majority of thyroid neoplasms. In this new classification, they are divided into benign, low-risk, and malignant neoplasms. Benign tumors include not only follicular adenoma but also variants of adenoma that are of diagnostic and clinical significance, including the ones with papillary architecture, which are often hyperfunctional and oncocytic adenomas. For the first time, there is a detailed account of the multifocal hyperplastic/neoplastic lesions that commonly occur in the clinical setting of multinodular goiter; the term thyroid follicular nodular disease (FND) achieved consensus as the best to describe this enigmatic entity. Low-risk follicular cell-derived neoplasms include non-invasive follicular thyroid neoplasm with papillary-like nuclear features (NIFTP), thyroid tumors of uncertain malignant potential, and hyalinizing trabecular tumor. Malignant follicular cell-derived neoplasms are stratified based on molecular profiles and aggressiveness. Papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs), with many morphological subtypes, represent the BRAF-like malignancies, whereas invasive encapsulated follicular variant PTC and follicular thyroid carcinoma represent the RAS-like malignancies. This new classification requires detailed subtyping of papillary microcarcinomas similar to their counterparts that exceed 1.0 cm and recommends not designating them as a subtype of PTC. The criteria of the tall cell subtype of PTC have been revisited. Cribriform-morular thyroid carcinoma is no longer classified as a subtype of PTC. The term "Hürthle cell" is discouraged, since it is a misnomer. Oncocytic carcinoma is discussed as a distinct entity with the clear recognition that it refers to oncocytic follicular cell-derived neoplasms (composed of > 75% oncocytic cells) that lack characteristic nuclear features of PTC (those would be oncocytic PTCs) and high-grade features (necrosis and ≥ 5 mitoses per 2 mm2). High-grade follicular cell-derived malignancies now include both the traditional poorly differentiated carcinoma as well as high-grade differentiated thyroid carcinomas, since both are characterized by increased mitotic activity and tumor necrosis without anaplastic histology and clinically behave in a similar manner. Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma remains the most undifferentiated form; squamous cell carcinoma of the thyroid is now considered as a subtype of anaplastic carcinoma. Medullary thyroid carcinomas derived from thyroid C cells retain their distinct section, and there is a separate section for mixed tumors composed of both C cells and any follicular cell-derived malignancy. A grading system for medullary thyroid carcinomas is also introduced based on mitotic count, tumor necrosis, and Ki67 labeling index. A number of unusual neoplasms that occur in the thyroid have been placed into new sections based on their cytogenesis. Mucoepidermoid carcinoma and secretory carcinoma of the salivary gland type are now included in one section classified as "salivary gland-type carcinomas of the thyroid." Thymomas, thymic carcinomas and spindle epithelial tumor with thymus-like elements are classified as "thymic tumors within the thyroid." There remain several tumors whose cell lineage is unclear, and they are listed as such; these include sclerosing mucoepidermoid carcinoma with eosinophilia and cribriform-morular thyroid carcinoma. Another important addition is thyroblastoma, an unusual embryonal tumor associated with DICER1 mutations. As in all the WHO books in the 5th edition, mesenchymal and stromal tumors, hematolymphoid neoplasms, germ cell tumors, and metastatic malignancies are discussed separately. The current classification also emphasizes the value of biomarkers that may aid diagnosis and provide prognostic information.

Keywords: Anaplastic thyroid carcinoma; Cribriform-morular thyroid carcinoma; Follicular nodular disease; Follicular thyroid carcinoma; High-grade thyroid carcinoma; Hyalinizing trabecular tumor; Medullary thyroid carcinoma; Papillary thyroid carcinoma; Poorly differentiated thyroid carcinoma; Thyroblastoma; WHO classification of thyroid tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary* / pathology
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases
  • Humans
  • Ribonuclease III
  • Thyroid Neoplasms* / pathology
  • World Health Organization


  • DICER1 protein, human
  • Ribonuclease III
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases