Thyroid cancer incidence in New Caledonia is the highest reported in the world and is approximately 10-fold higher than in most developed countries. We describe the incidence patterns in this country according to histological and sociodemographic characteristics to give clues about potential etiologic factors. Another objective is to see whether the incidence figures are related to enhanced detection of small size carcinomas. The study included all 498 cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed in 1985–1999. Pathology reports were systematically reviewed to determine the histological type of the tumor and the size of the cancerous nodules. The incidence of carcinomas ≤10 mm was taken as an indicator of enhanced detection due to improved screening procedures. The age-standardized incidence rates in 1985–1999 were exceptionally high in Melanesian women (71.4/100 000) and men (10.4/100 000). The incidence increased three-fold in women from 1995 onwards. The increase in incidence was more striking for papillary carcinomas ≤10 mm than for large size carcinomas, but an increased incidence of carcinomas >10 mm was also observed among women. The analysis by municipality of residence in Melanesian women showed that the incidence was twice as high in 1995–1999 in the Loyalty Islands as in the rest of the country. The sharp increase of thyroid cancer incidence in 1985–1999 in New Caledonia was partly related to enhanced detection of small size carcinomas. The elevated incidence of thyroid cancers, as well as the ethnic and geographic disparities, may result from common environmental or lifestyle risk factors that need to be identified.