Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck just below the Adam's apple. While the cause of most cases of thyroid cancer is unknown, there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These include having a family history of thyroid cancer, having a goiter, or having been exposed to radiation. In addition, certain medical conditions, such as NEM-2 syndrome, can increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Having a first-degree relative with thyroid cancer is one of the most significant risk factors for developing the disease. Even if no known hereditary syndrome has been identified, having a parent or sibling with thyroid cancer increases the risk of developing it. It's important to note that almost all thyroid cancers have few or no symptoms, and laboratory tests for thyroid cancer are often negative (even when cancer is present). Having a goiter is another risk factor for developing thyroid cancer.
A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland that can be caused by an iodine deficiency or other medical conditions. People with goiters are more likely to develop thyroid nodules, which can be benign or malignant. Exposure to radiation is another risk factor for developing thyroid cancer. This includes exposure to radiation from medical diagnoses or from environmental sources such as nuclear leaks.
While exposure to radiation may have contributed to some additional cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed each year, it could not have explained the sharp increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer over the past 30 years or so. People with NEM-2 syndrome are also at risk of developing other types of cancer, including thyroid cancer. NEM-2 syndrome is an inherited disorder that affects multiple organs and systems in the body and can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers. In addition, advances in imaging technology have made it possible to identify many previously undetectable conditions through the use of imaging modalities.
This has led to an increased detection rate of incidental thyroid nodules (including malignant nodules) on physical examination or diagnostic procedures for other primary diseases. The level of iodine intake also affects thyroid functions, but the mechanisms that relate to thyroid cancer are unclear. Women who have had a hysterectomy may also be at an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer compared to women without a history of hysterectomy. Epigenetic changes can also influence thyroid function or induce carcinogenic changes within the thyroid. Although there is no way to prevent most cases of thyroid cancer in people who are at average risk, people who are at higher risk should be examined regularly for suspicious thyroid nodules. Doctors may also recommend regular blood tests or thyroid scans to check for signs of recurrence.