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Thyroid Cancer: Diagnosis and Staging

If a patient exhibits symptoms thyroid cancer, a doctor may conduct one or more of the following procedures to determine whether or not the symptoms are from cancer or some other cause.

During a Physical Exam, a doctor will feel the thyroid for lumps and nodules. The neck and lymph nodes will also be examined for growth and swelling.

A Thyroid Scan involves the patient swallowing a small amount of a radioactive substance which will travel through the blood stream and be absorbed by the thyroid. A scan will be able to show how the thyroid tissues and nodules absorb the substance. By analyzing these results, doctors can determine whether certain nodules are cancerous or not.

Blood Tests will check for abnormal hormone levels in the blood which can indicate that the thyroid is not functioning properly.

An Ultra Sound uses sound wave to create pictures of the thyroid and nodules that may be too small to be felt by a doctor. These pictures can help a doctor to determine the shape, size, and location of the nodules and whether or not they are cancerous.

A Biopsy allows a pathologist to examine a sample of thyroid tissue with a microscope in order to check for cancer cells. This is the only sure way to detect thyroid cancer.

By determining the extent or stage of the disease, a doctor can prescribe a more accurate treatment plan. A doctor may use Ultra Sounds, MRIs, CT scans, chest x-rays or full body scans to better determine the stage of thyroid cancer.

From the National Cancer Institute.