High risk: Obese children, young adults at higher risk for thyroid cancer

Published on March 17th, 2022 by Christina Echegaray.

The incidence rate of thyroid cancer in children has been increasing over the last two decades, and Vanderbilt researchers wanted to explore possible causes.

“The one thing that kept popping up in our analysis of our cases of malignancy was the BMI (body mass index),” says Ryan Belcher, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

In a large cohort of pediatric thyroid patients from Vanderbilt, the researchers found that the probability of a nodule being malignant was significantly associated with the BMI z-score (used for children, and also known as BMI-for-age percentile).

“We know that obesity is a risk factor for adult thyroid cancer, but there has been very little research on pediatric thyroid cancer,” says Vivian Weiss, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and senior author of the study reported in JAMA Network Open. “There is something going on with BMI that is helping to support, or is correlated with, malignancy. The mechanism is obviously something that we are interested in looking at.”