What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
Although the exact causes of thyroid cancer are not yet well understood, there are two main risk factors that make getting the disease more likely:
- Exposure to Radiation.
- A Family History of Thyroid Cancer
How Does Exposure To Radiation Increase The Risk Of Thyroid Cancer?
The effects of radiation exposure depend on the amount of radiation and the age at which a person is exposed: the higher the dose of radiation and the younger the age of exposure, the greater the risk of getting thyroid cancer. Exposure during childhood raises the greatest risk.
Most exposure to radiation comes from medical treatments (like radiation therapy to treat breast cancer or lymphoma) or from the environment (through fallout from nuclear weapons or nuclear plant accidents).
The amount of radiation in routine medical tests like mammograms, x-rays and CT scans is low and not thought to significantly raise the risk of getting thyroid cancer. Still, lead aprons may be used to cover the neck as a precaution, and radiation tests should only be used on children when absolutely necessary.
How Does A Family History Of Thyroid Cancer Increase The Risk Of Thyroid Cancer?
Some cases of thyroid cancer are associated with a “positive” family history—meaning that someone in the patient’s family (usually a parent, sibling, child or grandparent) also had the disease.
Papillary thyroid cancer can be genetically linked and may also be associated with inherited forms of colon cancer, breast cancer, and goiters. Most cases of papillary thyroid cancer are not genetic in nature, though.
Some people with medullary thyroid cancer have a genetic disorder called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2) that puts them at risk for tumors in other parts of the body as well (like the parathyroid gland and the adrenal gland).
People with medullary thyroid cancer, as well as their families, should consider getting tested for the genetic mutations associated with MEN 2.
If you are dealing with a thyroid issue, our team at the Columbia Thyroid Center is here to help. Call (212) 305-0444 or request an appointment online.