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Last Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Thyroid Cancer - What Puts You At Risk?

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Dr. Hanish GuptaGeneral Physician • 21 Years Exp.MBBS, DNB (General Medicine)
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Thyroid cancer occurs in the cells of the thyroid gland which is found at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. Your thyroid produces important hormones like TSH that regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Thyroid cancer is an uncommon kind of cancer which usually doesn’t cause symptoms in the early stage.

However, symptoms like the following mean that you should see a doctor immediately

  1. A lump on your neck that can be felt
  2. Changes in your voice, including an increase in hoarseness
  3. Difficulty in swallowing
  4. Pain in the neck and throat

Risk factors and causes
The precise cause of thyroid cancer and the risk factors is still unknown, but research is going on to try to find out more. There are, however, a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing thyroid cancer. These are called risk factors. These are a few common ones:

  1. Benign or non-cancerous thyroid disease like:
    • An enlarged thyroid or goitre
    • Thyroid nodules or adenomas
    • Inflammation of the thyroid called thyroiditis
    • Benign thyroid disease is genetic. You are more at risk of getting thyroid cancer if you have family members with this disease. Your risk is even higher if more than one member of your family is affected.
  2. Exposure to radiation:
    • Any type of radiotherapy to the neck area can increase your risk of developing thyroid cancer years later.
    • Exposure to high levels of radiation in the environment can also increase your risk.
  3. Diabetes - A number of studies are pointing to the fact that diabetes may play a big role in thyroid cancer risk. Research is confirming that there is a very strong role in metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes as precipitating factors in thyroid cancer development. Plausible reasons that may link diabetes to higher thyroid cancer risk include:

    • Chronic thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) stimulation: Diabetics are susceptible to disruption in thyroid hormone balance, upping cancer risk. Elevated circulating insulin levels in type 2 diabetics with insulin resistance increase risk too. Anti-diabetic medication is linked to thyroid cancer.
    • Concomitant increased body mass index (BMI): In diabetics is also associated with increased risk for cancer in general, and thyroid cancer in particular.
    • Chronic exposure to glucose: This has been linked recently to increased thyroid cancer risk.
    • Elevated prevalence of vitamin D deficiency: The diabetics in animal studies is linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Inherited gene: Your risk of developing thyroid cancer goes up if you have inherited an altered gene that causes a bowel condition called familial adenomatous polyposis or FAP. So, you should get yourself tested if anyone in your family has this genetic condition to see if you have the same altered gene.
  5. Sex: Being female Thyroid cancer is more common in women than men.
  6. Weight: People who are overweight may have a higher risk of getting thyroid cancer. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult an Endocrinologist.

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