A thyroid nodule is typically a benign growth on the thyroid gland. However, certain characteristics of a nodule, including its size, shape and appearance, increase its likelihood of being thyroid cancer. For this reason, all thyroid nodules in children should be evaluated by a specialist. Our pediatric endocrinologists work closely with Duke pediatric oncologists, radiologists, and geneticists to identify and follow children who are at higher risk for thyroid cancer for medical or genetic reasons. The reasons and types of thyroid cancer may include the following.
Thyroid Cancer Following Radiation Treatment
The rate of teenagers with thyroid cancer has increased during the past 30 years. While the reason is unknown, it may be related to an increase in thyroid problems following radiation treatment for other forms of cancer like leukemia. In addition, doctors may now be more aware of the risks of thyroid cancer in certain families or in certain conditions associated with inflammation of the thyroid.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer
This is the most common type of thyroid cancer in children. It may spread to the lymph nodes or, less commonly, to the lungs, but is highly treatable if detected early and treated effectively.
Follicular Thyroid Cancer
Follicular thyroid cancer is usually contained within one thyroid nodule. It is less likely to spread to the lymph nodes, but can spread to other organs. This type of cancer can be cured when identified and treated early.
Medullary Thyroid Cancer
In children, medullary thyroid cancer is most often caused by an inherited syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2). Medullary thyroid cancer is a serious form of thyroid cancer and can be harder to treat when it spreads beyond the thyroid gland. For this reason, many children with MEN2 have their thyroid glands removed before cancer develops. If MEN2 runs in a family, all family members, including children, should have genetic testing to determine if they are affected.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), DICER1 syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner syndrome, Carney complex, Werner syndrome, and PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome are genetic conditions that can cause thyroid cancer. We work closely with Duke's pediatric geneticists to identify children at risk.