Thyroid Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for thyroid cancer?

While the exact cause of most thyroid cancers is not known, several risk factors have been linked to the disease. A risk factor is anything that affects a person’s chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with thyroid cancer has a risk factor, it is very hard to know what part that risk factor might have played in the cancer.

Some of the risk factors that make a person more likely to develop thyroid cancer include:

  • Gender - thyroid cancers are more common in women.
  • Age - women are most likely to get it in their 40s or 50s, while men are more likely to get it in their 60s or 70s
  • A diet low in iodine (this is rare in the United States)
  • Radiation exposure – the risk is highest if exposure occurs in childhood
  • Family history - having a parent, brother, sister, or child with thyroid cancer increases your risk of thyroid cancer.
  • Certain genetic conditions

To learn more about these risk factors, please see Thyroid Cancer.

Last Medical Review: 02/27/2014
Last Revised: 02/12/2016