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What causes medullary thyroid cancer?

The biggest risk factor for medullary thyroid cancer is a family history of medullary thyroid cancer or MEN syndrome (multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome). Up to 20% of patients with medullary thyroid cancer will have a genetic (i.e. familial or inherited) problem. In particular, patients should be screened for MEN syndrome, which is caused by a problem with the RET proto-oncogene. There are two forms of MEN syndrome that carry a risk for medullary thyroid cancer:
  • MEN 2A: Includes medullary thyroid cancer, pheochromocytoma, and hyperparathyroidism
  • MEN 2B: Includes medullary thyroid cancer, pheochromocytoma, and multiple ganglioneuromas
If a patient is suspected of having MEN syndrome, it is critical to rule out the other associated diseases, especially pheochromocytoma (a rare adrenaline-producing tumor) that can be life-threatening.

The cause of medullary thyroid cancer is currently not known. Most cases are called sporadic, which means they are not hereditary and do not run in families. Your risk of medullary thyroid cancer increases if you have a history of it in your family. Other forms of thyroid cancer may be caused by radiation therapy administered to treat other cancers in the neck area. Medullary thyroid cancer is almost always not one of them.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.