The incidence of thyroid cancer among children has been increasing over recent decades. Similarly, cases of childhood obesity are also on the rise. While obesity is a known risk factor for thyroid cancer in adults, potential links between the two diseases in children have not been thoroughly explored. To address this question, a team of researchers at Boston Children's Hospital performed a study and recently published their findings in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
The cross-sectional study enrolled patients over 19 with thyroid nodules measuring 1 cm or larger. Researchers extracted clinical and demographic data from medical records. Doctors diagnosed thyroid cancer using histopathology of the resected nodules. When nodules were not resected, doctors used cytologic testing to make a thyroid cancer diagnosis. Body mass index (BMI), calculated using the patient's height and weight, was used as an indicator of obesity.
The study considered 362 pediatric patients who were, on average, 15.5 years old. The cohort skewed towards female patients who made up 80% of the study group, consistent with overall thyroid cancer trends. About 30% of the patients were diagnosed with thyroid cancer upon enrolling in the study. Using multiple statistical analyses, BMI was not associated with a thyroid cancer diagnosis in this study.
Although their study found no link between BMI and thyroid cancer in children with thyroid nodules, the authors stressed the importance of routine thyroid examinations and a thorough evaluation of any nodules detected.
Another study, published in JAMA Open Network in 2021, found an association between obesity and childhood thyroid cancer. In this study, all patients in the cohort underwent surgical removal of a thyroid nodule. Although the study designs differed, the inconsistent results reported from these two studies indicate the need for a further investigation of this topic, including studies enrolling a large number of patients from diverse demographic backgrounds.