Telomerase is a specialized ribonucleoprotein polymerase that directs the synthesis of telomerase repeats at chromosome ends. Accumulating evidence has indicated that telomerase is stringently repressed in normal human somatic tissues but reactivated in cancers and immortal cells, suggesting that activation of telomerase activity plays a role in carcinogenesis and immortalization. In this work, the status of telomerase activity during the development of human thyroid cancer was determined using telomeric repeat amplification protocol (TRAP) in 14 nodular hyperplasia, 14 adenomas, 23 papillary carcinomas and 11 follicular carcinomas. Positive telomerase activity was detected in 2 of 14 nodular hyperplasias (14%), 4 of 14 adenomas (29%), 12 of 23 papillary carcinomas (52%) and 10 of 11 follicular carcinomas (91%). The cancers that are negative for telomerase activity are mostly in early stage (stage I or II). These results suggest that telomerase reactivation plays a role during the development of thyroid cancer.