Research indicates a possible relationship between breast and thyroid cancers. A history of breast cancer may increase your risk for thyroid cancer. And a history of thyroid cancer may increase your risk for breast cancer. Several studies have shown this association but not why it exists. Not everyone who’s had one of those cancers will develop the other, or second, cancer.
Keep reading to learn more about this connection.
What does the research say?
Researchers looked at 37 peer-reviewed studies containing data on the relationship between breast and thyroid cancers. They noted in a recent paper that a woman who’s had breast cancer is 1.55 times more likely to develop a second cancer of the thyroid than a woman without a history of breast cancer. A woman with thyroid cancer is 1.18 times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman without a history of thyroid cancer.
Researchers are unsure about the connection between breast and thyroid cancers. Some research has indicated the risk of developing a second cancer increases after radioactive iodine is used to treat thyroid cancer. Iodine is generally considered safe. But it could trigger a second cancer in a small amount of people. Radiation used to treat certain forms of breast cancer may increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Certain genetic mutations like the germline mutation could link the two forms of cancer. Lifestyle factors like exposure to radiation, poor diet, and lack of exercise, could also increase the risk of both cancers.
Some researchers also noted the possibility of a “surveillance bias.” This means a person with cancer is more likely to follow up with screening after treatment. This improves detection of a secondary cancer. That means a person with breast cancer may be more likely to get screened for thyroid cancer than someone without a history of cancer. And a person with thyroid cancer may be more likely to be screened for breast cancer than someone without a history of cancer.
One recent study found that surveillance bias was unlikely the reason for increased incidence in second cancers in people with a history of breast cancer. The researchers left out people who were diagnosed with the second cancer within a year of their primary cancer diagnosis.
They also analyzed the results by dividing the data into groups based on the time between the diagnosis of the first and the second cancer. An earlier study also used the time between the diagnosis of the first and second cancers to conclude that surveillance bias was unlikely to account for increased incidence of second cancer in people who’ve had thyroid cancer.
Both breast and thyroid cancers have unique screening guidelines. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), if you have an average risk of breast cancer, you should:
- Start getting screenings as early as age 40, if you’d would like.
- Get yearly mammograms from ages 45 to 55.
- Get a mammogram at least every other year if you’re 55 or older, and more frequently if desired.
If you’re at a higher risk for breast cancer due to genetic or lifestyle factors, you should discuss a screening plan with your doctor before age 40.
There are no formal guidelines for thyroid cancer screening. Doctors typically recommend being evaluated if you have the following:
- a lump or nodule in your neck
- a family history of thyroid cancer
- a family history of medullary thyroid cancer
You should also consider getting your neck checked once or twice a year by a doctor. They can detect any lumps and give you an ultrasound test if you’re at increased risk for thyroid cancer.
Symptoms of thyroid and breast cancer
There are unique symptoms for breast and thyroid cancers. The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new mass or lump in the breast. The lump can be hard, painless, and have irregular edges. It can also be rounded, soft, or painful. If you have a lump or mass on your breast, it’s important to get checked by a doctor with experience diagnosing diseases in the breast area.
Sometimes breast cancer can spread and cause lumps or swelling under the arm or around the collarbone. The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is also a lump that forms suddenly. It usually starts in the neck and grows quickly. Some other symptoms of breast and thyroid cancers include:
|Breast cancer symptoms||Thyroid cancer symptoms|
|pain around the breast or nipple||✓|
|nipples turning inward||✓|
|irritation, swelling, or dimpling of breast skin||✓|
|discharge from the nipple that isn’t breast milk||✓|
|swelling and inflammation in part of the breast||✓|
|thickening of nipple skin||✓|
|chronic cough not caused by a cold or flu||✓|
|pain in the front part of the neck||✓|
|pain going up to the ears||✓|
|persistent hoarse voice||✓|
Talk to your doctor is you’re experiencing any of these symptoms.
Treatment will depend on the type and severity of your cancer.
Breast cancer treatment
Local treatments or systemic therapies can treat breast cancer. Local treatments fight the tumor without affecting the rest of the body. The most common local treatments include surgery and radiation therapy. Doctors use these treatments for less severe cancers.
Systemic therapies can reach cancer cells throughout the body. These therapies include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.
Sometimes, doctors will use hormonal therapy along with radiotherapy. These therapies can be given at the same time, or hormonal therapy could be given after radiotherapy. Research suggests that both plans include radiation in order to lessen the formation of cancer growths.
Doctors often detect breast cancer early, so more local therapies are used. This can lower the risk of exposing the thyroid and other cells to procedures that may increase the risk for more cancer cell growth.
Thyroid cancer treatments
Treatments for thyroid cancer include:
- surgical treatments
- hormone treatment
- radioactive iodine isotopes
Research suggests an association between breast cancer and thyroid cancer. Doctors aren’t sure if one leads to the other or if they have the same underlying cause. More research is needed to understand the reasons for this association.
If you have breast cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened for thyroid cancer if you have symptoms. If you have thyroid cancer, ask your doctor about breast cancer screening if you have symptoms. Also talk with your doctor about the possible connection between the two. Something in your personal medical history may increase your chances of thyroid or breast cancer.