Background: Twenty-five percent of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) cases are hereditary. The ideal age for prophylactic thyroidectomy is based on the specific RET mutation involved. The purpose of this study was to determine whether such age-appropriate prophylactic thyroidectomy results in improved disease-free survival. Methods: Twenty-eight patients underwent thyroidectomy for hereditary MTC at our institution. Age-appropriate thyroidectomy was defined according to the North American Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (NANETS) guidelines. Patients who had age-appropriate surgery (group 1, n = 9) were compared to those who had thyroidectomy past the recommended age (group 2, n = 19). Results: The mean age was 13 ± 2 years, and 61 % were female. Patients in group 1 were younger than in group 2 (4 ± 1 vs. 17 ± 2 years, p < 0.01). There were no significant differences in gender or RET mutation types between these two groups. Group 1 patients were cured with no disease recurrence compared with group 2 patients who had a 42 % recurrence rate (p = 0.05). Subanalysis of group 2 identified that patients who underwent surgery without evidence of disease did so at a shorter period following the guidelines compared with those who underwent therapeutic surgery (2 ± 2 vs. 16 ± 2 years, p = 0.01) and had longer disease-free survival (100 vs. 27 %, p = 0.005). Conclusions: Patients with hereditary MTC should undergo age-appropriate thyroidectomy based on RET mutational status to avoid recurrence. Patients who are past the recommended age should have surgery as early as possible to improve disease-free survival. © 2012 Society of Surgical Oncology.