September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month
Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S. Thyroid cancer is found when nodules (lumps or bumps) appear in the thyroid, which is either felt by the patient, the doctor, or found by imaging studies. Although the death rate for thyroid cancer is low compared to other kinds of cancers, the American Cancer Society reports the chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer is increasing, primarily due to better detection methods.
About Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is typically diagnosed at a younger age compared to other cancers – in fact, about 2 percent of thyroid cancer occurs in children and teens,- according to the American Cancer Society, and 2 out of 3 cases are found in people under 55 years of age. In 2017, approximately 56,870 new thyroid cancer cases were diagnosed in the US and 2,010 deaths occurred as a result of the disease. Thyroid cancers are more common (3 times more) in women than men. But the good news is that although there is an increase in cancer diagnosis, the death rate from thyroid cancer has been stable for many years and still remains low compared to other cancers. The key is to diagnose it early in order to get treated early.
How The Diagnosis is Made
In many cases, thyroid cancer is diagnosed because the patient comes to a doctor for a lump (nodules) in the thyroid gland, that is either felt by the patient or doctor on routine exam, or that was discovered when the patient had imaging tests for another problem (i.e. neck CT). Thyroid nodules are quite common. In fact nearly 300,000 new nodules were diagnosed in 2015. Although there are no routine screening tests, an ultrasound of the neck is the best method to determine whether there is an actual thyroid nodule. Blood tests for thyroid may pick up changes in thyroid hormone levels, but do not determine if you have a thyroid nodule, and if so, whether the thyroid nodule is cancerous. A fine needle aspiration biopsy is the way to get a sample from the nodule to determine whether it is cancer or not.
About Fine Needle Aspiration
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is a the gold standard for thyroid cancer detection. It is an out patient procedure, often done in a doctor’s office, which is quick and easy compared to other kinds of testing. The doctor inserts a very fine needle into the nodule, withdraws some cells and sends it to a laboratory for analysis. Most people can return to their normal routine afterwards. FNA is also much less expensive than some other diagnostic methods. Many types of doctors can perform an FNA. However, only one type of doctor analyzes the tissue in order to diagnose it: a cytopathologist. The benefit of having a cytopathologist performing as well as analyzing the tissue, is that they can look at the biopsy material under the microscope in real time, to make sure there is enough tissue to make a diagnosis. Also, they can make sure to biopsy all suspicious areas and prepare the slides in a manner that is optimal for making a correct diagnosis. Anyone concerned about the possibility of thyroid cancer due to abnormal thyroid nodules (lumps) should see a fine needle aspiration specialist for assessment and testing.