Thyroid Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Thyroid Disorders Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideThyroid Anatomy, Symptoms, and Disorders

Thyroid Anatomy, Symptoms, and Disorders

What causes thyroid cancer?

The exact cause of thyroid cancer is not known, though there are factors that may be associated with an increased risk of developing the cancer. Even if the risk factors are present, there is not a way of knowing whether cancer might develop; patients without risk factors still may develop thyroid cancer.

What are the risk factors for thyroid cancer?

Children who have had radiation exposure to the neck are at higher risk for thyroid cancer. Studies have looked at children who were radiated 50 and 60 years ago when the risks of radiation where less well understood, and their rate of thyroid cancer is increased. Children and women survivors of nuclear reactor accidents (Chernobyl in 1986 has been studied) have an increased risk of thyroid and other types of cancer.

X-rays and CT scans of the neck use low doses of radiation but medical testing has not been found to cause thyroid cancer. Nevertheless, in general, it is important to limit the amount of exposures to the least amount of radiation that will provide a clear enough image to help make a diagnosis.

Diets low in iodine may increase the risk of thyroid cancer, but in developed countries, there is usually enough iodine used as food additives that this is not a problem. Lower levels of iodine in the diet may enhance the risk of radiation induced thyroid cancer.

Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men and at a slightly younger age (40 to 50 years old for women versus 60 to 70 for men).

There may be a genetic predisposition to thyroid cancer, especially in certain rare types of thyroid cancer.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2015

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