Thyroid Cancer Symptoms, Possible Causes, and Risk Factors

Age, Family History, and Radiation Exposure Possible Thyroid Cancer Causes

Written by Bridget Brady MD, FACS

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.1

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.

Potential Risk Factors

While many of the risks for developing a thyroid cancer are beyond your control, knowledge can help you share your concerns and communicate more effectively with your doctor.

Gender and Race-related risks

Age and Family-related risks

*DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) makes up each person's biological blueprint. Genes are parts of the DNA that are inherited. An oncogene is a gene that has mutated and has the potential to cause cancer. Proto-oncogenes are genes that have mutated and can cause a cancer at the cellular level. There are different types of proto-oncogenes, such as RET.  

Radiation Exposure
Routine x-rays such as those performed during a dental examination or mammography do not cause thyroid cancer.  The sources of radiation that may increase the risk for thyroid cancer include:

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.

Bridget Brady, MD, FACS is the first fellowship-trained endocrine surgeon in Austin, Texas. She has a passion for and expertise in disease of the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Dr. Brady has performed thousands of thyroidectomies and parathryoidectomies with a focus on minimally invasive techniques to optimize patients' medical and cosmetic outcomes.


1. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Thyroid Cancer Guide. Thyroid Cancer Signs and Symptoms. May 2015. Accessed June 16, 2016.

2. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Thyroid Cancer Guide. Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors. May 2015.  Accessed June 16, 2016.

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