Thyroid nodules are found in 5% to 10% of the population. While these nodules carry only a 5% to 10% risk of malignancy, tests that complement fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology in preoperative diagnosis and risk stratification are lacking. Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein polymerase with activity found in many malignant tissues, but absent from most normal adult tissue. In this study, we have investigated telomerase activity in 24 thyroid tumors, 14 matched adjacent thyroid tissues, and 3 chronic thyroiditis tissue samples. Using a telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) assay on frozen tissue, telomerase activity was detected in 11 of 20 thyroid carcinomas, including 10 of 14 papillary carcinomas and a Hurthle cell carcinoma. Telomerase activity was not detected in 4 benign adenomas, 3 follicular carcinomas, or a single case each of medullary and anaplastic thyroid carcinoma. Telomerase activity was detected in 3 of 14 samples of adjacent thyroid tissue from patients with thyroid tumors. Interestingly, all 3 cases of adjacent thyroid tissue that tested positive had a moderate to marked degree of chronic inflammation. In addition, 3 of 3 samples from chronic thyroiditis specimens tested positive for telomerase activity. When tumor invasiveness (vascular and/or capsular) was compared with telomerase activity in papillary carcinomas, only 1 of 4 telomerase-negative tumors was invasive, while 6 of 10 of telomerase-positive tumors were invasive. Moreover, 6 of 7 invasive papillary carcinomas had telomerase activity. In summary, this is the first report of telomerase activity in thyroid tissue and nodules. This activity was detected in a large percentage of papillary thyroid carcinomas, but not benign adenomas, follicular carcinomas, or most normal thyroid tissue. Telomerase activity may also correlate with tumor invasiveness. Further studies will focus on larger numbers of tumors, metastatic tissue, and undifferentiated carcinomas, as well as application of this assay to products from fine-needle aspirates as a potential diagnostic and prognostic marker in thyroid neoplasms.