Every year in the United States, more than half a million people with a thyroid nodule undergo testing to determine whether they have thyroid cancer. Recent research has shown that many of these patients aren’t fully informed about the possible outcomes of this testing and don’t know what questions to ask their doctors. This can increase patients’ anxiety and decrease their chances of receiving the best care for their thyroid nodule or thyroid cancer. A new educational campaign is now available to help patients better understand thyroid cancer diagnosis and their testing options.
What is a thyroid and what does it do?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that releases important hormones to regulate metabolism, help the body use energy efficiently, and keep the brain, heart and organs working. It is a vital contributor to health.
What are thyroid nodules and how are they tested?
A thyroid nodule is a solid or fluid-filled lump that forms in the thyroid. These nodules are usually harmless, but up to 10% will be cancerous. To determine whether a patient with a thyroid nodule has thyroid cancer, doctors use a very thin needle to collect cells from the nodule. These cells are then evaluated under a microscope.
Unfortunately, these procedures — known as fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsies — provide an “inconclusive” result up to 30% of the time, meaning doctors cannot confirm whether the nodule is cancerous or not. This can create significant anxiety and frustration for patients. To get a diagnosis in these cases, doctors have traditionally conducted surgery, removing all or part of the thyroid. In 70-80% of patients who undergo this surgery, the nodule is not cancerous, meaning the surgery was not necessary. These surgeries are invasive, costly and can often lead to the need for lifelong, daily thyroid-hormone replacement drugs.
- Every year in the United States, doctors perform more than 565,000 biopsies to determine whether thyroid nodules are cancerous
- Up to 30% of these biopsies provide an “inconclusive” result, often leading to thyroid surgery
- 70-80% of patients who undergo surgery turn out to have thyroid nodules that are not cancerous, making the surgery unnecessary
- Loss of all or part of the thyroid can lead to lifelong hormone-replacement treatment which can result in long-term health issues such as osteoporosis, difficulty maintaining a normal metabolism and irregular heartbeat
Improving diagnosis and treatment
For those patients who do have thyroid cancer, cells taken during the FNA biopsy can provide important information to help guide surgery and treatment decisions. This genomic information is now accessible through a test that looks at the molecular make-up of thyroid nodule cells.
Recent research has shown that many people with thyroid nodules do not know that their FNA biopsy could provide inconclusive results. Additionally, many of these people do not know about the availability of molecular testing, which can provide both clearer diagnostic answers and valuable, individual treatment information without the need for surgery. A new educational campaign called “More About You” is now available to help address these challenges. It offers information about thyroid nodule diagnosis, what different testing results mean and how molecular testing can help. It also provides a list of questions for patients to ask their doctors. For more information, visit AskForAfirma.com.