Thyroid Cancer Symptoms, Possible Causes, and Risk Factors

Age, Family History, and Radiation Exposure Possible Thyroid Cancer Causes

woman_feels_neck_thyroidA neck lump or nodule is the most symptom of thyroid cancer. You may feel a lump, notice one side of your neck appears to be different, or your doctor may find it during a routine examination.

Sometimes a thyroid tumor is found during diagnostic ultrasound or imaging tests performed for another reason. If the tumor is large, it may cause neck or facial pain, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, cough unrelated to a cold, hoarseness or voice change.

If you feel a lump, see a change in the size or shape of your neck, or experience symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Early detection of thyroid cancer is essential to a good treatment outcome.

Potential Risk Factors
While many of the risks for developing a thyroid cancer are beyond your control, knowledge can help you share your concerns and communicate more effectively with your doctor.

Gender and Race-related risks

  • Females are affected 2 to 3 times more often than males.
  • People who are white or Asian are more likely to develop thyroid cancer.

Age and Family-related risks

  • Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia, or multiple endocrine tumors (MEN2A and MEN2B) are tumors that affect glands of the endocrine system (eg, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal). MEN 2 tumors affecting the thyroid are medullary thyroid cancer. In rare cases, people have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer.
  • Most cases of thyroid cancer affect people between the ages of 20 and 55.
  • According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, anaplastic thyroid cancer is usually diagnosed adults older than 60.2
  • Although rare, medullary thyroid cancer may develop in infants 10 months and older and during adolescence if the child carries the RET proto-oncogene* mutation.2

*DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) makes up each person’s biological blueprint. Genes are parts of the DNA that are inherited. An oncogene is a gene that has mutated and has the potential to cause cancer. Proto-oncogenes are genes that have mutated and can cause a cancer at the cellular level. There are different types of proto-oncogenes, such as RET.

Radiation Exposure
Routine x-rays such as those performed during a dental examination or mammography do not cause thyroid cancer. The sources of radiation that may increase the risk for thyroid cancer include:

  • Before 1950, low to moderate doses of x-ray therapy were used to treat adolescents with tonsillitis or acne.
  • Radioactive fallout (eg, Chernobyl) from atomic and nuclear disasters.
  • Radiation therapy performed to treat Hodgkin lymphoma, such as the lymph nodes in the neck.

If you have a family member with thyroid disease, even if non-cancerous, you should share that information with your doctor. Your doctor may run certain tests to evaluate your thyroid function and risk for developing thyroid cancer.

Written by Bridget Brady MD, FACS for EndocrineWeb ~ August 8, 2016.

~ The Author ~
Bridget Brady, MD, FACS is the first fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon in Austin, Texas. She has a passion for and expertise in disease of the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Dr. Brady has performed thousands of thyroidectomies and parathryoidectomies with a focus on minimally invasive techniques to optimize patients’ medical and cosmetic outcomes.

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