Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors
Learn More About Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors: Chat with Us | Email Us
What Are the Risk Factors for Thyroid Cancer?
Although the causes of thyroid cancer are still being investigated, certain factors that may increase an individual's risk of developing the disease have been identified. However, having one or more of these thyroid cancer risk factors does not guarantee a person will develop thyroid cancer.
Factors that may increase thyroid cancer risks include:
- Gender and Age – Thyroid cancers occur approximately three times more frequently in women than men, although the reason for this difference is unknown. Women also tend to develop these cancers at an earlier age (40s to 50s) than men (60s to 70s).
- Low-iodine Diet – A diet that contains very little iodine has been associated with an increased risk of follicular thyroid cancers. This may explain why these cancers are seen less frequently in the United States, where iodine is added to salt and other foods. Individuals who do not get enough iodine in their diets may also be at increased risk for papillary cancers if they are exposed to radioactivity.
- Radiation Exposure – Being exposed to radiation, including the kind used for certain medical treatments, as well as fallout from nuclear weapons or power plant accidents, can increase a person’s thyroid cancer risk. In particular, childhood exposure carries a greater risk of later developing thyroid cancer than exposure as an adult.
- Hereditary Conditions – Certain inherited genetic abnormalities have been associated with the development of different types of thyroid cancer:
- Inherited mutations in a gene called RET have been associated with the development of medullary thyroid cancers, and account for approximately one out of four cases. This condition is known as familial medullary thyroid cancer (FMTC). If other endocrine glands are also involved, the disease is then called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2). Individuals with this genetic mutation often develop FMTC during childhood or early adulthood.
- It is possible to detect many of the DNA mutations associated with FMTC using a simple blood test and this may be recommended for individuals who have a family history. Genetic counseling can help you and your family decide if a DNA test is appropriate. Currently, some doctors recommend removing the thyroid gland in individuals who have inherited the RET genetic mutation.
- Other inherited genetic conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner syndrome, Cowden disease and Carney complex type I, are considered risk factors for thyroid cancer, particularly papillary and follicular thyroid cancers.
- Even if no known inherited syndrome has been identified, thyroid cancer in a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, raises your risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Remember that having one or more these thyroid cancer risk factors does not guarantee you will develop the disease. It is best to discuss any possible risks with your doctor. Genetic testing or other exams may help you to better understand your individual thyroid cancer risk.
NOTE: Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.
Next Topic: Thyroid Cancer Symptoms