How Thyroid Cancer Is Diagnosed
While spotting a lump in the throat is often the way that thyroid cancers are first detected, the only way to distinguish between cancerous and benign growths in this region is to test the cells that make up the growth. Check with a medical practitioner as soon as you notice any masses or lumps in the throat region, as pain is not usually a symptom of this type of cancer in the early stages.
Spotting a Lump
The first stage of diagnosis is usually when the patient notices a lump or nodule on the front of the throat. Alternatively, such a lump may be noted by a doctor or medical practitioner during any routine medical exam. This type of lump is usually painless, so it may have grown to be quite a significant mass before it is noticed. The size and firmness of the lump and any neighboring lymph nodes can be used to see if a thyroid growth is likely, and your doctor may also ask questions about your family medical history to see if you are likely to be more prone to thyroid growths.
Thyroid Blood Tests
If a thyroid growth of some sort is suspected, the medical practitioner will likely perform a check of the thyroid function. However, though blood tests and ultrasounds are often used at this stage, the most they are likely to indicate is that there is indeed a nodule of some form on the thyroid; they are unlikely to show whether the lump is benign or malignant.
The only real test for thyroid cancer is a needle biopsy. Fine needle aspiration, the most common type of initial biopsy, involves a few cells being withdrawn from various points within the mass that are then examined microscopically for cancerous changes. Most doctors can perform the aspiration, but the resulting cells are then sent to specialized laboratories for analysis.
Any thyroid nodule larger than half an inch across is likely to trigger a medical practitioner into performing this test, but if your doctor is concerned for another reason, the procedure is simple enough that smaller nodules can also be tested. Your doctor may use ultrasound during the biopsy to ensure getting samples from the right places, particularly if the nodule is small. Fine needle aspiration is also used on swollen lymph nodes in the neck if there is a chance they might have some cancerous cells.
Thyroid cancer normally develops in the lymph nodes in the neck, but it may not affect the function of the thyroid in early stages. It is quite rare, and cases of thyroid cancer often receive a good prognosis due to the fact that most instances can be totally surgically removed. Early diagnosis helps to improve the prognosis even further, so it's wise to be aware of how thyroid cancer is diagnosed.