How to Avoid Getting Thyroid Cancer

Mary Shomon | Oct 10, 2017

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There are some risk factors for thyroid cancer that are out of your control. At the same time, there are also some things that you can do to lower your own risk of developing thyroid cancer in the future. Let’s take a look at the various risk factors, and explore actions you can take to lower your chance of developing cancer of the thyroid.

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Your gender

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Gender is a factor you can’t control and it is a key factor in thyroid cancer. Around 75 percent of all thyroid cancer is diagnosed in women.

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Your age

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Your age is another thyroid cancer risk factor that can’t be changed. About two-thirds of all thyroid cancer is diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 55.

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Your family history

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You can’t change your family’s medical history. You face an increased risk if you have a family history of thyroid cancer, especially in first-degree relatives such as parents, siblings, or children.

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Your personal thyroid history

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Having a history of thyroid disease is an unchangeable risk factor for thyroid cancer. You can, however, ensure that this information is in your medical chart and ask for periodic evaluation and monitoring of signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer in the future.

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Your genetics

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If your family carries a gene known as the RET oncogene, you are at a significantly higher risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer. While you can’t change your genetics, if you have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer, you can be tested for this genetic mutation. If you have the mutation, most experts recommend that you have surgery to remove your thyroid, which can prevent future medullary thyroid cancer from developing.

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Other inherited health conditions

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There are several inherited conditions that are associated with an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. These conditions include familial adenomatous polyposis, Gardner syndrome, Cowden disease, and Carney complex. While you can’t change your hereditary factors, you can make sure that your thyroid is regularly monitored for early detection and treatment of thyroid cancer.

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Poorly managed hypothyroidism

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If you are hypothyroid and have an elevated or poorly controlled thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level — even within the TSH reference range — you are at increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. Research, however, has not yet demonstrated that treatment of hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can prevent thyroid cancer. Be aware of this risk factor, however, to ensure that you have periodic monitoring.

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Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

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If you have Hashimoto’s disease, you are at increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. There is no evidence to date, however, suggesting that any treatment of Hashimoto’s disease can reduce that risk of thyroid cancer. Be aware of this risk factor, however, to ensure that you have periodic monitoring.

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Radiation treatments

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Higher-dose radiation is used as a therapeutic treatment for a variety of cancers. In the past, radiation treatments were also given to treat less serious conditions, including acne, and enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Having a history of radiation treatments is an irreversible risk factor for thyroid cancer. You can, however, ensure that you have frequent monitoring for early detection and treatment of thyroid cancer.

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Radiation exposure

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Exposure to radiation from nuclear accidents — such as the Chernobyl or Fukushima reactor accidents —is a risk factor for thyroid cancer, especially when infants and children are exposed. One way you can protect yourself from this risk is to keep a supply of potassium iodine tablets on hand for all your family members. Taking this supplement at the direction of experts can protect the thyroid from absorbing radiation and reduce the risk of developing thyroid cancer later.

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Dental x-rays

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There is some evidence that excessive exposure to unprotected dental x-rays may increase the risk of thyroid cancer. One way to protect yourself and your family is to insist that a thyroid collar — a protective lead shield that drapes around your neck and blocks radiation from reaching the thyroid — be used whenever you receive a dental X-ray.

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Iodine deficiency

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While iodine deficiency is not a proven risk factor for thyroid cancer, there is evidence that having sufficient iodine levels may shift thyroid cancer to the less malignant types. You can ensure that you have sufficient iodine intake by getting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended intake of 110 to 290 mcg of iodine daily from food and supplements.

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Your diet

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There is some evidence that high consumption of raw vegetables, persimmons, and tangerines may decrease your risk of thyroid cancer. At the same time, overconsumption of goitrogenic foods (like cruciferous vegetables), and meat such as pork and poultry, are linked to increased risk of thyroid cancer. While the links are not definitively proven, adding raw vegetables and fruits and avoiding overconsumption of cruciferous vegetables and meats have other health benefits.

NEXT: Thyroid Cancer Risk Factors