Thyroid Cancer Symptoms, Possible Causes, and Risk Factors
Age, Family History, and Radiation Exposure Possible Thyroid Cancer Causes
A neck lump or nodule is the most common symptom of thyroid cancer. You may feel a lump, notice one side of your neck appears to be different, or your doctor may find it during a routine examination. Sometimes a thyroid tumor is found during diagnostic ultrasound or imaging tests performed for another reason. If the tumor is large, it may cause neck or facial pain, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, cough unrelated to a cold, hoarseness or voice change.
If you feel a lump, see a change in the size or shape of your neck, or experience symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Early detection of thyroid cancer is essential to a good treatment outcome.
Am I at Risk? What Causes Thyroid Cancer?
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network's Guideline1 provides many interesting facts about thyroid cancers.
- Lifetime risk to develop a thyroid cancer is less than 1%; women .83% and men .33% in the United States.
- Thyroid cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer diagnosed in women.
- Caucasian Americans are more affected than African-Americans.
- During 2004 to 2006, thyroid cancer's peak-age incidence was:
Women: 45-49 years of age
Men: 65-69 years of age
While the cause of thyroid cancer is not always determined, its development is often related to radiation exposure, family history, and/or age. Routine x-rays, such as those performed during a dental exam or mammogram, do not cause thyroid cancer. Radiation therapy and/or exposure to radiation during childhood may contribute to development of thyroid cancer.
In rare cases, people have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer. For example, MEN 2A and MEN 2B are types of multiple endocrine neoplasia (multiple endocrine tumors) that pass from one generation to the next, and these types always involve medullary thyroid cancer. (If you've been diagnosed with MTC, find out if you're eligible to participate in a clinical trial studying medullary thyroid cancer treatments.) If you have a family member with thyroid disease, even if non-cancerous, you should share that information with your doctor. Your doctor may run certain tests to evaluate your thyroid function and risk for developing thyroid cancer.
Another thyroid cancer risk factor is age. Most people with thyroid cancer are older than 40.