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 thyroid cancer risk factor. 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.

Genetic 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.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Davidge-Pitts CJ and Thompson GB. Chapter 82: Thyroid Tumors. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Thyroid Cancer Treatment. 02/06/2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/thyroid/hp/thyroid-treatment-pdq#_313_toc. on February 20, 2019.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Thyroid Carcinoma. V.3.2018. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/thyroid.pdf on February 20, 2019.

Schneider DF, Mazeh H, Lubner SJ, Jaume JC, and Chen H. Chapter 71: Cancer of the Endocrine System. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.

Last Medical Review: March 14, 2019 Last Revised: March 14, 2019

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.