Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor for thyroid cancer is a condition, behavior, or other part of your life that increases the likelihood of developing the disease.

It’s important to understand what risk factors you have for developing thyroid cancer so that your doctors can decide which treatment approach will be most effective for you.

The different types of thyroid cancer have different risk factors.

Risk factors for papillary thyroid cancer include:

  • Radiation exposure. People who were exposed to radiation when they were children have a higher chance of developing papillary thyroid cancer.
  • Inherited conditions. People with a family history of multiple colon growths because of inherited conditions may be at an increased risk for papillary thyroid cancer. An example of this is familial adenomatous polyposis.
  • Family history. For about 5 percent of people who develop papillary thyroid cancer, the disease runs in the family. Researchers are still trying to figure our which gene is to blame.
  • Gender. It’s unclear why, but papillary thyroid cancer occurs about three times more often in women than in men. When it does happen in men, it usually grows and spreads more quickly.

Risk factors for follicular thyroid cancer include:

  • A low-iodine diet. People are more likely to develop follicular carcinoma if they live in a place where iodine isn’t added to salt that’s used in food.
  • Familial conditions. Inherited disorders, such as Werner’s syndrome and Cowden’s syndrome, sometimes include thyroid cancer as part of the disease process.

Risk factors for medullary thyroid cancer (MTC):

  • Family history. Approximately 25 percent of people with MTC have inherited a mutation in a gene called RET.

Information about your health and family medical history can help in figuring out your risk for thyroid cancer. This information is important for building a treatment plan that makes sense for you.

No matter what risk factors for thyroid cancer you might have, Memorial Sloan Kettering can help you watch for, diagnose, and find the most effective treatment approach. 

Pictured: Megan Harlan Fleischut & Kenneth Offit
Genetic Testing & Counseling at Memorial Sloan Kettering
Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Clinical Genetics Service offers hereditary cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling, and genetic testing by specially trained genetic counselors and physicians.
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