The thyroid gland is the largest pure endocrine gland in the body and one of the organs most likely to produce clinically significant abnormalities after therapeutic external radiation. Radiation doses to the thyroid that exceed approximately 26 Gy frequently produce hypothyroidism, which may be clinically overt or subclinical, as manifested by increased serum thyrotropin and normal serum-free thyroxine concentrations. Pituitary or hypothalamic hypothyroidism may arise when the pituitary region receives doses exceeding 50 Gy with conventional, 1.8-2 Gy fractionation. Direct irradiation of the thyroid may increase the risk of Graves' disease or euthyroid Graves' ophthalmopathy. Silent thyroiditis, cystic degeneration, benign adenoma, and thyroid cancer have been observed after therapeutically relevant doses of external radiation. Direct or incidental thyroid irradiation increases the risk for well-differentiated, papillary, and follicular thyroid cancer from 15- to 53-fold. Thyroid cancer risk is highest following radiation at a young age, decreases with increasing age at treatment, and increases with follow-up duration. The potentially prolonged latent period between radiation exposure and the development of thyroid dysfunction, thyroid nodularity, and thyroid cancer means that individuals who have received neck or pituitary irradiation require careful, periodic clinical and laboratory evaluation to avoid excess morbidity.