Thyroid Cancer in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Introduction to Thyroid Cancer in Children

As a parent, hearing the words "thyroid cancer" can be frightening, especially when it involves your child. It's essential to understand that thyroid cancer in children is rare and, in most cases, highly treatable. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for thyroid cancer in children. I hope this information will help you better understand the condition and provide you with some peace of mind.

Understanding the Thyroid Gland and its Functions

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. It is an essential part of the endocrine system and plays a crucial role in regulating the body's metabolism, growth, and development. The thyroid gland produces two primary hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which control the body's energy production and consumption.

These hormones also help maintain the proper functioning of vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys. In children, thyroid hormones play an essential role in growth, development, and cognitive function. Therefore, it is crucial to address any thyroid-related issues in a timely manner to ensure the overall well-being of your child.

Causes of Thyroid Cancer in Children

While the exact cause of thyroid cancer in children is unknown, certain factors may increase the risk. Some of these factors include:

Genetic predisposition:

Children with a family history of thyroid cancer or other thyroid disorders may be at a higher risk of developing the disease. Some genetic conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) and familial medullary thyroid carcinoma (FMTC), can also increase the risk of thyroid cancer in children.

Radiation exposure:

Exposure to high levels of radiation, especially during childhood, can increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer. This includes radiation from medical treatments, such as radiation therapy for other cancers, and environmental exposure, such as nuclear accidents.

Gender and age:

Thyroid cancer is more common in females than in males. Although it can occur at any age, it is more common in children aged 10 to 14 years.

Common Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer in Children

Thyroid cancer in children may present with a variety of symptoms, some of which can be similar to those of other thyroid disorders. Some common symptoms include:

  • A painless lump or swelling in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Changes in the voice, such as hoarseness
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Persistent cough not related to a cold or allergies

It is important to remember that these symptoms may also be caused by other, less severe conditions. However, if your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Diagnosing Thyroid Cancer in Children

Diagnosing thyroid cancer in children typically involves a combination of physical examination, blood tests, imaging studies, and a biopsy. The healthcare provider will first examine your child's neck for any signs of swelling or lumps and review their medical and family history. They may also order blood tests to check the levels of thyroid hormones and other markers associated with thyroid cancer.

Imaging studies such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to further evaluate the thyroid and surrounding structures. If a suspicious lump is detected, a biopsy may be performed to obtain a tissue sample for further examination under a microscope. This will help determine if the lump is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Treatment Options for Thyroid Cancer in Children

Treatment for thyroid cancer in children typically depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the child's overall health. Some common treatment options include:


Surgical removal of the thyroid gland, also known as a thyroidectomy, is the primary treatment for most types of thyroid cancer in children. Depending on the extent of the disease, the surgeon may remove part or all of the thyroid gland and any affected lymph nodes in the neck.

Radiation therapy:

External beam radiation therapy or radioactive iodine (RAI) therapy may be used to treat thyroid cancer in children, especially if the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid gland. RAI therapy is particularly effective for treating thyroid cancer since the thyroid cells readily absorb iodine, allowing the radioactive iodine to target and destroy cancer cells.

Chemotherapy and targeted therapy:

Chemotherapy and targeted therapy may be used in some cases, particularly for more aggressive forms of thyroid cancer or when other treatments have not been successful. These treatments work by targeting specific genes, proteins, or other factors involved in cancer cell growth and survival.

Hormone replacement therapy:

Since the thyroid gland produces essential hormones, children who have undergone a thyroidectomy will require hormone replacement therapy to maintain normal growth and development. This typically involves taking synthetic thyroid hormone medication daily.

Prognosis and Follow-up Care for Children with Thyroid Cancer

The prognosis for children with thyroid cancer is generally favorable, with high survival rates and low recurrence rates. However, it is essential to follow up regularly with your child's healthcare provider to monitor their progress and ensure they receive the appropriate care and hormone replacement therapy.

Follow-up care may include periodic blood tests, imaging studies, and physical examinations to monitor thyroid hormone levels and check for any signs of cancer recurrence. It is also crucial to ensure that your child maintains a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and proper stress management, to support their overall well-being.


While thyroid cancer in children is rare, it is essential to be aware of the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available. Early detection and prompt treatment can significantly improve the prognosis for children with thyroid cancer. If you have any concerns about your child's thyroid health or notice any unusual symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

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