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Thyroid Cancer Causes that You Should Know About

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 23, 2022

Thyroid Cancer Causes that You Should Know About

Truth be told, thyroid cancer is one of the lesser known types of cancer. Unlike breast cancer or skin cancer, there isn’t as much publicity or public awareness. However, this does not mean thyroid cancer is not a serious health risk. Learn more about thyroid cancer causes that can and can’t be prevented.

Being female

Although both men and women have thyroids, for unknown reasons, thyroid cancer affects more women than men. In fact, nearly all disorders of the thyroid happen in women about 3 times more often than men.

It may have something to do with the variation of hormones in women compared to men. Currently, thyroid cancer ranks at the 7th most common cancer in women and 9th overall.

Lifestylethyroid cancer causes

Our lifestyles have a big impact on our overall health. Consuming processed food and excess calories every day increases our chances of becoming overweight.

Additionally, an unhealthy diet can predispose us to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and even cancer. Obesity and high body fat percentage is one contributor to thyroid cancer development.

It goes without saying that tobacco smoking is dangerous to our health. Both first-hand and second-hand smoke is harmful to the lungs.

Smoking is a major contributor to many different diseases and can also be one of the thyroid cancer causes. However, one study showed that postmenopausal women who have been smoking for a long time actually had a modestly-reduced risk. While this is an interesting finding, the established negative effects of smoking outweigh its potential benefits.

Older age

As with other diseases, age can be a factor or cause. Thyroid cancer occurs at any age, but middle-aged women (40 to 50 years) and elderly men (60 to 70 years) tend to be affected. Because women of this age are typically perimenopausal or menopausal, they may experience some thyroid problems. However, not all thyroid problems are due to cancer. If you experience any symptoms of a thyroid disorder, your doctor may recommend a series of tests in order to diagnose you.

Radiation exposurethyroid cancer causes

Aside from being born female, radiation exposure is one of the major thyroid cancer causes. One reason the thyroid is very susceptible to radiation effects is because of its location. The thyroid gland sits in front of the neck, only covered by relatively thin layers of skin, muscle, and fat.

Generally, the earlier and longer a person is exposed to radiation, the greater the risk. This is why frequent x-rays and radiation therapies should not be done on pregnant women. Not only does radiation affect the mother, but it can also affect the unborn baby.

In the case of environmental exposure (e.g. nuclear fallout), doctors recommend that people living within 200 miles (320 kilometers) of nuclear accidents should take potassium iodide. Potassium iodide works by preventing the absorption of radioactive iodine in the thyroid, which reduces the risk of cancer development.

Genetics and family history

Last but not least, there are genetic thyroid cancer causes. One type of thyroid cancer known as medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). Based on data, about 2 out of every 5 MTC cases are caused by an abnormal gene.

This abnormal MTC gene can be inherited, or passed on in generations. If one of your parents, grandparents, or siblings has been diagnosed with MTC, there is a chance that you also carry the gene. However, it does not guarantee that you will develop cancer.

This type of thyroid cancer is less common, however, it can develop in childhood or early adulthood instead of later on in life. MTC tends to be more aggressive and have a lower survival rate than other thyroid cancers, such as papillary thyroid carcinoma.

Key takeaways

In summary, there are several thyroid cancer causes, two of which are being female and exposure to radiation. In addition, thyroid cancer is treatable with surgery and has a high survivability rate.

Talk to your doctor, endocrinologist, or oncologist if you feel like your thyroid is causing some problems for you.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jun 23, 2022

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