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Read about what screening is and the tests people at high risk of thyroid cancer can have.

At the moment, there’s no general screening programme in the UK for thyroid cancer. But if you have a high risk of thyroid cancer, your doctor might refer you to a genetic screening clinic for advice.  

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease. This is before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

If you have a high risk of thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is rare. But some people may have inherited an abnormal gene (RET proto oncogene) so are at higher risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer. You can be screened for the abnormal gene if you have a:

  • relative diagnosed with thyroid cancer
  • very close relative who has been diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer

This gene is sometimes linked to a syndrome MEN2. People with MEN2 have a higher risk of some types of cancer of hormone producing glands, including thyroid cancer. Your GP can refer you to a family cancer clinic or genetic screening clinic for advice.

Screening for the faulty gene

Not everyone who is offered a blood test for a faulty gene wants it done. It’s worth taking time to think carefully about this decision.

If you’re referred for screening, you’ll be asked about your family medical history. This will be used to decide whether the abnormal gene is likely to run in your family. If it is likely, the clinic staff will offer you a blood test to look for the faulty gene. The implications of having the blood test will be explained to you beforehand. These include:

  • how you’ll feel if the test is positive
  • what can be done if the test is positive
  • whether a positive test affects your ability to get life insurance or a mortgage
Last reviewed: 
02 May 2018
  • Guidelines for the Mangement of Thyroid Cancer (3rd edition)

    The British Thyroid Association 

    Clinical Endocrinology Volume 81 Supplement 1 July 2014