Am I At Risk for Thyroid Cancer?

The job of your thyroid gland is to make hormones that help your body use energy, stay warm, and control your blood pressure and heart rate. Cancer happens when healthy cells in the gland change and grow out of control.

On the list of most common cancers in the United States, thyroid cancer ranks fifth, and no other cancer is being diagnosed at a faster rate. One reason for this may be better tests. They allow doctors to find thyroid tumors that were too small to see in the past.

Most of the time, thyroid cancer can be cured with treatment.

Experts don’t always know what causes it, but they do know some things may raise your chance of getting it.

Gender and Age

Women are three times more likely to get thyroid cancer than men. You can get it at any age. But women are often diagnosed in their 40s and 50s. Men tend to be older -- in their 60s and 70s -- when they find out they have it. And in men, thyroid cancer grows and spreads more quickly.
 

Radiation Exposure

Children who get radiation therapy for some cancers, such as lymphoma, have a higher chance of getting thyroid cancer. Compared with children, adults exposed to radiation have lower odds of getting it.
 

Heredity and Genetics

Your chances of getting thyroid cancer are higher if your mother, father, brother, sister or child got it.

Also, thyroid cancer may be linked to certain genetic or hereditary problems. One of these causes extra tissue called polyps to form in the colon -- it’s called familial adenomatous polyposis. If you have it, there’s a higher chance you’ll get certain kinds of cancer, including thyroid cancer.

Other genetic problems that increase the risk of thyroid cancer include:

  • Familial medullary thyroid cancer
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2
  • Cowden disease

Not Enough Iodine in Your Diet

Iodine is a mineral found in some foods. Your body needs it to make thyroid hormones. Certain thyroid cancers are more common in parts of the world where people have low levels of iodine. In some countries, including the U.S., iodine is added to table salt and other foods to help give you a boost.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 15, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:
Mayo Clinic: “Thyroid Cancer.”
American Thyroid Association: “Thyroid Cancer.”
American Cancer Society: “Thyroid Cancer” and "Cancer Facts & Figures 2018."
National Cancer Institute: “SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Thyroid Cancer” and “A Snapshot of Thyroid Cancer.”
Journal of the American Medical Association: “Increasing incidence of thyroid cancer in the United States, 1973-2002.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “About Thyroid Cancer.”
Mayo Clinic: “Familial adenomatous polyposis.”
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: “Iodine.”
The Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting and Expo, San Diego, March 5-8, 2015.

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.