Thyroid Cancer

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can thyroid cancer be prevented?

Most people with thyroid cancer have no known risk factors, so it is not possible to prevent most cases of this disease.

Radiation exposure, especially in childhood, is a known risk factor for thyroid cancer. Because of this, doctors no longer use radiation to treat less serious diseases. Imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans also expose children to radiation, but at much lower doses, so it’s not clear how much they might raise the risk of thyroid cancer (or other cancers). If there is an increased risk it is likely to be small, but to be safe, children should not have these tests unless they are absolutely needed. When they are needed, they should be done using the lowest dose of radiation that still provides a clear picture.

Blood tests can be done to look for the gene mutations found in familial medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). Because of this, most of the familial cases of MTC can be prevented or treated early by removing the thyroid gland. Once the disease is discovered in a family, the rest of the family members can be tested for the mutated gene.

If you have a family history of MTC, it is important that you see a doctor who is familiar with the latest advances in genetic counseling and genetic testing for this disease. Removing the thyroid gland in children who carry the abnormal gene will probably prevent a cancer that might otherwise be fatal.


Last Medical Review: 02/24/2014
Last Revised: 03/20/2014