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Thyroid Cancer Prevention and Screening

Thyroid Cancer Screening

Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re healthy and don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for curing it are best. Unfortunately, standardized screening tests have not been shown to improve thyroid cancer outcomes.

Although thyroid cancer sometimes has no symptoms, many tumors are found in the early stages when patients or their doctors find lumps or nodules in their throats. Some doctors suggest you examine your neck carefully twice a year. Be sure your doctor includes a cancer-related exam in your annual exam.

If other people in your family have or had familial medullary thyroid cancer, you and your children should have blood tests as early as possible to find out if you have the gene that causes this cancer. If you or your children have the gene, your doctor may suggest surgically removing the thyroid gland to lower the risk of cancer. More than 90% of people with the gene develop thyroid cancer.

Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting thyroid cancer is a risk factor. Risk factors include:

  • Age: Two-thirds of thyroid cancer cases occur between ages 20 and 55
  • Gender: Women are three times as likely as men to develop thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is found most often in women of childbearing age
  • Exposure to radiation, including X-rays, especially during childhood
  • Inherited disorders: Familial medullary thyroid cancer usually is caused by an inherited mutation in the RET gene. If your parent has the gene mutation, you have a 50% chance of having it too. If you inherit the gene, you are likely to develop the cancer. Other types of thyroid cancer also may be caused by diseases that run in families.
  • Iodine deficiency: This is uncommon in the United States, where iodine often is added to table salt. In other areas of the world, especially inland regions without fish and shellfish in the diet, iodine levels are sometimes too low.

Not everyone with risk factors gets thyroid cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor. 

If you are concerned about inherited family syndromes that cause thyroid cancer, we offer advanced genetic testing to let you know your risk. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • One of nation’s most active programs
  • Innovative thyroid cancer treatments, including minimally invasive and robotic thyroid surgery
  • Genetic testing and expertise in the care of hereditary thyroid disease
  • Accurate and precise diagnosis
  • Clinical trials of new therapies

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Thyroid Cancer Prevention

Preventing thyroid cancer is not possible in most cases. However, certain steps may reduce the risk.

  • Exposure to X-rays is a proven cause of thyroid cancer, and young children may be most at risk. Therefore, it may be wise to minimize X-rays in children.
  • In the United States, most table salt contains iodine. However, you might want to eat a diet that includes foods with iodine, such as fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, onions, radishes, potatoes, bananas, parsley and kelp. 
  • If a family member had or has medullary thyroid cancer and is found to have the familial form of the disease, siblings, children and parents should be tested as soon as possible to see if they have inherited a gene that makes thyroid cancer more likely. If they have the gene, they may decide to have the thyroid surgically removed to lower the risk of cancer.

Research shows that many cancers can be prevented if people applied everything known about cancer prevention to their lives. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center