Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that particularly affects females. While its exact causes are largely unknown, multiple risk factors can contribute to its development, including genetic factors.
The thyroid gland is situated in the neck and plays a vital role in producing hormones that regulate essential bodily functions such as metabolism and heart rate. Thyroid cancer originates within the cells of the thyroid, and atypical cells begin to grow uncontrollably. Genetics do sometimes play a role, therefore, thyroid cancer can be hereditary.
In this article, we will explore the hereditary aspects of thyroid cancer. We will also discuss the disease’s causes, symptoms, types and treatment options and the importance of prevention.
Thyroid cancer can be hereditary, but it is not solely down to genetics.
What is thyroid cancer?
Thyroid cancer occurs when atypical cells in the thyroid gland begin to grow uncontrollably. The thyroid gland in the neck is responsible for producing hormones that regulate metabolism. When these cells become cancerous, they form a tumor in the thyroid gland, which can sometimes spread to other parts of the body.
Thyroid cancer may not always present noticeable symptoms in its early stages. However, as the cancer progresses, some common symptoms may
- A lump in the neck: The most common sign of thyroid cancer is the presence of a lump or nodule in the neck.
- Hoarse voice: Thyroid cancer can affect the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness.
- Difficulty swallowing: As the tumor grows, it can put pressure on the esophagus, causing difficulty in swallowing.
- Sore throat: Some individuals may experience pain in the neck or throat.
- Swollen lymph nodes: Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may be a sign of thyroid cancer that has spread.
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for an evaluation.
While doctors do not fully understand the exact causes of thyroid cancer, a combination of genetic conditions and risk factors can increase the likelihood of someone developing it.
Changes in a person’s DNA can cause thyroid cells to become cancerous. DNA is the chemical in cells that make up genes. DNA changes can cause cancer that turns on
Several risk factors may contribute to the development of thyroid cancer,
- Genetic mutations: Certain genetic mutations, such as mutations in the RET and
familial adenomatous polyposisgenes, have links to an increase in the risk of thyroid cancer.
- Producing too many hormones: Acromegaly is a rare condition where the body overproduces growth hormones. A
2019 studysuggests there is a higher risk of thyroid cancer relating to acromegaly.
- Iodine intake: A
2021 studysuggests a link between iodine intake and an increase in the risk of thyroid cancer.
- Gender: Thyroid cancer is
more commonin women than in men.
- Age: The risk of thyroid cancer increases with age. Most cases occur in females aged 40–44 and in males aged 70–74.
- Family history: A family history of thyroid cancer or certain hereditary conditions, such as familial medullary thyroid cancer, can increase the risk.
- Obesity: Thyroid cancer is more likely to occur in people who have overweight or obesity.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Thyroid cancer has several types, including:
- Papillary thyroid cancer: This is the
most commontype, accounting for around 80% of thyroid cancer cases. It is slow-growing and has a high survival rate.
- Follicular thyroid cancer: This type is
less commonthan papillary thyroid cancer and is known for its tendency to spread to other organs.
- Medullary thyroid cancer: Medullary thyroid cancer is rarer and
often has linksto genetic mutations. It may be more aggressive than other types.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This is the
rarestand most aggressiveform of thyroid cancer, with a low survival rate.
The type of thyroid cancer is crucial in determining the most suitable treatment approach.
Treatment options for thyroid cancer depend on the type and stage of the cancer,
- Surgery: Surgical removal of the thyroid gland, or a thyroidectomy, is one of the primary treatments for some cases of thyroid cancer.
- Radiation therapy: This technique typically follows surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
- Radioactive iodine therapy: This treatment is for certain types of thyroid cancer to target any remaining thyroid tissue or cancer cells.
- Targeted cancer drugs: Kinase inhibitors are proteins inside cells that
usuallyrelay signals, such as instructing the cell to grow. Blocking certain kinases can help treat some cancers.
- Thyroid hormone replacement: Patients
may requirelifelong therapy to maintain body function after thyroid surgery.
- Chemotherapy: This may be for advanced or aggressive cases of thyroid cancer.
The prognosis for thyroid cancer is
Early detection and prompt treatment are crucial in achieving the best possible outcome. Regular follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals are essential for monitoring and managing thyroid cancer.
- Avoiding radiation exposure: Minimize exposure to unnecessary radiation, especially during childhood.
- Checking family history: If a person has a family history of thyroid cancer, consider genetic counseling and regular check-ups. Options can include routine surveillance or potentially removing the central lymph nodes, known as a prophylactic thyroidectomy.
- Following a balanced diet: Consume a diet rich in nutrients to support thyroid health.
- Undergoing self-exams: Regularly carry out checks on the neck for any lumps or abnormalities.
- Checking thyroid health: Manage any underlying thyroid conditions and maintain regular check-ups with a healthcare professional.
While thyroid cancer can have hereditary components due to genetic mutations, it is not commonly an inherited condition. Rather, genetics play a role in increasing an individual’s susceptibility to the disease. Understanding the risk factors, types, symptoms, and available treatments for thyroid cancer is crucial for early detection and successful management.
Regular check-ups and a proactive approach to thyroid health can help individuals reduce their risk and ensure the best possible outcome if they receive a diagnosis of thyroid cancer.