Concern about thyroid cancer has been in the news lately since the 2011 tsunami in Japan caused nuclear power plants to malfunction and release radiation into the air and water—and with good reason.228 Although typically a rare cancer, the risk of thyroid cancer becomes much higher when exposed to this type of radiation.229 This was seen in people exposed to radiation during and following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings and after the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown.229

The thyroid gland takes up iodine from the body in order to make the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Because it cannot tell the difference between radioactive and stable forms of iodine, the thyroid will take up the radioactive iodine, store it, and use it for hormones. When the radioactive iodine decays it causes tissue and DNA damage that can lead to cancer. In the event of exposure from a nuclear plant leak or a nuclear bomb, taking potassium iodide can help block the uptake of radioactive iodine by saturating the thyroid and preventing the need to absorb any more iodine.221,230

A lump near the Adam’s apple in the neck could be a thyroid nodule. Although it will most likely turn out to be benign, a thyroid nodule is also the most common symptom of thyroid cancer.229

There are six different forms of thyroid cancer, each categorized by the thyroid cell type it develops in:229

Form % Of Cases Characteristics
Papillary carcinomas 80%
  • More common in women.
  • Risk factors include hereditary and radiation exposure (especially during childhood).
  • Slow-growing tumors can take up to 20 years to appear after radiation exposure.
  • Sensitive to the thyroid hormone TSH (thyroid suppression therapy therefore helps) and takes up iodine (radioactive iodine is used for treatment).
  • Frequently spreads locally to lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Rarely spreads to distant areas of the body, but when it does it usually shows up in bone and/or lungs.
Follicular carcinomas 10%
  • More common in women.
  • Occurs more frequently in areas of low diet intake of iodine.
  • Local spread to neck lymph nodes happens but rarely.
  • Higher rate of metastasis to distant body areas (20%); typically bone and lungs.
  • A sizeable subset of follicular form of thyroid cancer is Hürthle cell carcinomas, which are particularly aggressive and more likely to spread.
Medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTCs) 5-10%
  • Slightly more common in women.
  • 25% of cases are due to hereditaryi syndromes.
  • MTC tumor cells produce the hormone calcitonin.
  • Frequently spreads locally to lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Lower 10 year survival rate than other thyroid carcinomas.
Primary thyroid lymphomas 2-5%
  • More common in women.
  • Most are non-Hodgkin B-cell tumors.
  • Linked to chronic lymphocytic thyroiditisii, an autoimmune disease.
  • Local spread to neck lymph nodes common.
  • Most are diagnosed while in the thyroid gland and usually have a good prognosis with treatment.
Anaplastic carcinomas 1-2%
  • More common in women.
  • Highly aggressive, these carcinomas have a very low survival rate averaging less than a year.
  • Local spread to neck lymph nodes common.
  • Extremely high rate of metastasis to distant body areas (50% at time of diagnosis); typically bone, brain, and lungs.
Primary thyroid sarcomas Rare
  • Highly aggressive, sarcomas have a very poor survival rate.
  • High rate of recurrence and metastasis.

Evidence of Benefit

Lab studies show that resveratrol suppresses papillary and follicular thyroid carcinomas as well as MTC tumor growth, probably by inducing cancer cell death. Although preliminary in nature, these results suggest that treatment with resveratrol may help improve the survival rate in this type of thyroid cancer.231-232

Both lab and animal studies demonstrate that resveratrol increases the uptake of radioactive iodide, which is used to treat follicular and papillary thyroid cancers. This is especially helpful in patients who have problems taking up iodine.233

In addition, animal studies show that resveratrol can help lower risk factors for thyroid cancer. This includes protection against the effects of radiation exposure and obesity, which are known risk factors for thyroid cancer.93,99,221,223,227

  • MEN 2A (Sipple syndrome), MEN 2B, and familial medullary thyroid carcinomas (FMTC). MEN stands for multiple endocrine neoplasia.
  • Also known as Hashimoto thyroiditis.
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90-95% of lumps in the thyroid are non-cancerous for
people under age 60.(229)

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