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Thyroid Cancer: Could You Be at Risk?

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, a chance to acknowledge the dangers and risks of this aggressive form of cancer and raise awareness so it can be treated early. When detected early, thyroid cancer can be treatable, but some forms are very aggressive and difficult to treat. Even when this cancer can be treated, it’s expensive, stressful, and life-disrupting. If you have a loved one in hospice in San Francisco and elsewhere, their care team can provide information for family members and comfort for patients.

As a family member of a parent suffering from thyroid cancer, naturally one of your first questions will be: am I at risk? Many inherited conditions have been connected to various types of thyroid cancer, as well as family history. However, most people who develop thyroid cancer don’t have an underlying inherited condition or family history of this disease, says the American Cancer Society.

The Heredity Link

Having a first-degree relative (i.e., parent, sister, brother, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without having a known inherited syndrome within the family, can boost your risk of thyroid cancer. Here are some of the links with various types of thyroid cancers.

  • Medullary thyroid cancer: Two out of 10 medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs) stem from inheriting an abnormal gene.
  • Other thyroid cancers: Those with certain inherited medical conditions are at a higher risk of the common forms of thyroid cancer. Higher rates of thyroid cancer happen to those with uncommon genetic conditions like:
  1. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP): Colon polyps are common with this type, and people who have it are at a very high risk of colon cancer, as well as other cancers like papillary thyroid cancer.
  2. Cowden disease: People suffering from this syndrome will have an increased risk for thyroid problems and benign growths, as well as a higher risk of cancers of the thyroid, breast, uterus, and more.
  3. Carney complex, type I: People may develop many benign tumors and hormonal problems, with an increased risk of follicular and papillary thyroid cancers.
  4. Familial non-medullary thyroid carcinoma: Thyroid cancer tends to show up more often within some families, usually seen at an earlier age. The papillary type of thyroid cancer is the one that tends to run in families, due to genes on chromosomes 1 and 19.

If you think you may have a familial condition, it’s important to talk with your doctor who can recommend genetic counseling if your medical history raises a red flag.

Risk Factors

It’s important to note that while risk factors can influence the development of cancer, most will not directly cause cancer. Some people with many risk factors don’t ever develop cancer, while others who have no known risk factors will. Know your risk factors and talk about them with your doctor so you can make more informed health care and lifestyle choices. Here are some of the risk factors for thyroid cancer according to

  • Gender: Females are diagnosed with three out of every four thyroid cancers.
  • Age: Thyroid cancer occurs at any age, but two-thirds of all cases occur in those between the ages of 20 and 55. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is typically diagnosed after age 60. Older infants and teens can develop another type of thyroid cancer called MTC.
  • Genetics: Some types of thyroid cancer can be inherited.
  • Radiation exposure: Exposure to moderate radiation levels to the neck and head can increase the risk of follicular and papillary thyroid cancers.
  • Diet low in iodine: Iodine is necessary to maintain normal thyroid function.
  • Race: White and Asian people are more likely to get thyroid cancer, but this disease is not discriminating — it can affect any race or ethnicity.
  • Breast cancer: Studies show breast cancer survivors have a higher risk of thyroid cancer, especially within the first five years after diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms

Thyroid cancer occurs in the thyroid cells, within a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck, just underneath the Adam’s apple. Your thyroid is responsible for producing hormones that regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and weight. Often times, thyroid cancer does not show symptoms at first but can cause swelling and pain as it grows. Here are some of the signs and symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • A lump you can feel in the skin on your neck
  • Changes to your voice, including hoarseness
  • Difficulty with swallowing
  • Pain in the neck and throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

No one is quite sure what causes thyroid cancer, which means there’s no way to prevent it in those with an average risk of the disease. This is why it’s so important to see your doctor regularly and bring them any cause for concern, especially if you have a family member who has it or died from it.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our hospice program is sensitive to those who are suffering from thyroid cancer, and their families. Learn more about how we can help when you contact us at 888-978-1306.