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Can Thyroid Cancer Increase Your Risk of Other Malignancies?

Can Thyroid Cancer Increase Your Risk of Other Malignancies?

Cancer in any form has a clear and oftentimes destructive effect. However, thyroid cancer distinguishes itself from others because it has an exceptionally insidious attribute. Recent research suggests that those with thyroid cancer may have a greater risk of contracting secondary forms of cancer even after their original condition has been treated.

Many people, even thyroid patients, are unaware of this aspect of thyroid cancer. Therefore, taking the time to learn about the thyroid, the impact of thyroid cancer, and how it may promote the occurrence of future malignancy is an excellent way to invest in your current and future health.

Introduction to the Thyroid

The thyroid is an essential component of health that influence nearly every bodily function through the production of hormones. These hormones regulate functions such as heart rate, energy level, body temperature, and weight. Because of its broad impact, thyroidal disruption, in the form of cancer or otherwise, can lead to system-wide malfunction.

The Different Types of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer comes in a variety of forms. Each of the four types have unique traits that usually require individualized treatment.

Papillary cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer making up 80% of cases. Typically, papillary cancer is found in populations with poor iodine intake and affects only part of the thyroid gland. The danger of papillary thyroid cancer is the relatively high risk of spreading to the lymph nodes. Fortunately, papillary cancer has a high cure rate.

Follicular cancer is the second most common form at 15% of cases. This type is more aggressive regarding damage to the thyroid but is less likely to spread to other organs. However, if it does spread, it generally affects the arteries and veins of the thyroid, and other regions including the lungs, bones, and skin.

Approximately 3% of thyroid cancer cases are medullary and it is the most likely to be passed down genetically. Medullary thyroid cancer is more likely than papillary or follicular cancers to spread to the lymph nodes. It also has the unique trait of developing from C cells rather than follicular cells or other thyroid hormone producers.

Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the rarest form of thyroid cancer at about 2% of all cases. Although uncommon, it is the most dangerous and has the greatest potential of spreading to other organs. Because it spreads quickly, treatment typically involves immediate surgery to remove malignant areas or the entire thyroid. Most cases of anaplastic thyroid cancer occur in men.

Seeing the Symptoms

Thyroid cancer frequently does not exhibit clear symptoms. However, when symptoms do present themselves, patients may experience the following issues and discomforts:

  • Pain and swelling in the neck
  • Lump or thyroid nodule in the neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Changes in voice or palpable lump

Specific to anaplastic thyroid cancer:

  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Fast-growing lump on the thyroid

The Growing Prevalence of Thyroid Cancer

Even though thyroid cancer is not the most common type of cancer, it should not be ignored. The yearly incidence rate of thyroid cancer has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years. The annual growth rate is expected to continue at an estimated 5%. At present, the American Cancer Society approximates that there will be nearly 54,000 new cases of thyroid cancer diagnosed this year.

Thyroid cancer is the fifth leading form of cancer in women and it is the most common type among women between the ages of 20 to 34. Women are 75% more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men yet the fatality rate between genders is similar. This suggests that although women are far more likely to develop thyroid cancer, if a man develops thyroidal malignancies their risk of fatality is much higher. Fortunately, thyroid-related fatality is uncommon as thyroid cancer has a 5-year, 97% survival rate. This is significantly higher than other forms of cancer.

Increased Risk of Secondary Cancers

Although thyroid cancer is a highly survivable condition, there is a lesser known risk associated with it. According to research published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention women who survive thyroid cancer are more likely to develop future malignancy. It is estimated that thyroid cancer patients have a 30% increased risk of developing a second primary cancer. The major areas of concern regarding future development after diagnosis and treatment of thyroid malignancy include the following cancers:

  • Bone
  • Brain
  • Colon
  • Female breast
  • Leukemia
  • Parathyroid gland
  • Pharynx
  • Rectum
  • Salivary gland
  • Small intestine
  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Stomach

In addition to the increased risk of various common cancers there is an immediate risk following thyroid cancer treatment. In the year following thyroid cancer treatment, the following cancers have a notably elevated risk of development:

  • Adrenal gland cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Prostate cancer

One of the more common treatments of cancer, specifically thyroid cancers, is targeted radiation treatments. Unfortunately, studies have shown that this approach may increase the risk of cancers such as lung, esophageal, sarcomas, and others. Exposing the thyroid to radiation from other treatments has also shown to increase the risk of malignancy. Additional studies suggest that the use of radioactive iodine in treating thyroid cancer may promote the development of future cancers. However, it is unclear as to what degree of impact it has, and its influence may be limited by appropriate precautions and protections.

Keeping Your Guard Up

Because the thyroid has such a significant impact on a wide range of bodily functions, thyroid cancer can be particularly debilitating. However, because symptoms may not be immediately apparent, thyroid cancer can cause a great deal of damage before it is effectively treated. Even though thyroid cancer is one of the most survivable forms of cancer the increased risk of developing a secondary cancer makes it exceptionally dangerous in the long term. Therefore, it is important, even after treatment has concluded, to remain vigilant in protecting the body and actively checking for signs of malignancy.


1. The Truth About Thyroid Cancer. Holtorf Medical Group.

2. Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month: 5 Important Things to Know About Thyroid Cancer. Holtorf Medical Group.

3. Thyroid and breast cancer survivors at risk of the other malignancy. MedicalNewsToday.

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