Is Thyroid Nodule Cancerous? How to Tell

The only way to accurately diagnose thyroid cancer is through a biopsy, where cells are taken from the suspicious area and examined in the laboratory. If your doctor suspects that a biopsy is necessary, the most reliable way to determine if a thyroid nodule or tumor is cancerous is by fine needle aspiration (FNA) of the thyroid nodule. Although it is rare for thyroid nodules to be cancerous, it is not possible to tell just by evaluating symptoms alone. Most cancerous thyroid nodules grow slowly and may be small when first discovered by the doctor.

Aggressive thyroid cancers are rare, and the nodules associated with them can be large, firm, fixed, and fast-growing. However, experts in the Department of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins assure that even cancerous thyroid nodules are treatable. If your doctor suspects that you have thyroid cancer, they will feel your neck for swelling or lumps. If you have a thyroid lump, your doctor may perform one or more of the following tests to confirm if it is cancerous.

Blood tests cannot show if a thyroid nodule is malignant or benign, but they can reveal how well the thyroid is functioning. These tests can also show if a nodule is toxic or if it produces too much thyroxine, causing hyperthyroidism. To perform this type of biopsy, the doctor uses a tiny needle attached to a syringe to remove a small sample of thyroid tumor cells. A fine-needle aspiration biopsy can collect samples of cells from the nodule, which can then be examined under a microscope to provide more information about the behavior of the nodule.

People who have had thyroid gland surgery may need to take thyroid hormone later on in order to keep their body chemistry in balance. Although thyroid cancer often does not cause any symptoms, an enlarged growth can sometimes cause swelling of the neck, pain, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, or changes in your voice. NYU Langone doctors were the first in the country to use ultrasound to identify thyroid nodules and determine if they could be cancerous. Receiving radiation therapy to the head, neck, or chest during childhood increases a person's risk of developing thyroid cancer.

A newer alternative that your doctor can use to treat benign nodules in an office setting is called radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Possible complications of hyperthyroidism include irregular heartbeats, weak bones and thyrotoxic crises, a rare but life-threatening intensification of signs and symptoms that requires immediate medical attention. Your doctor may ask you questions related to whether you have been exposed to too much radiation or if you have a family history of thyroid cancer or thyroid disease. If the thyroid nodule is toxic, meaning it produces too much thyroxine, then thyroid-stimulating hormone levels are usually low.

For example, this scan may be useful for diagnosing advanced and rare papillary or follicular thyroid cancers. Even so, your doctor may want one done to help determine if the thyroid gland is working properly. Thyroid nodules are solid or fluid-filled lumps that form inside the thyroid gland - a small organ located at the base of the neck just above the breastbone. However, this blood test can rule out benign thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

If you have a thyroid nodule or an enlarged lymph node in your neck, you may need a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy.

Greta Rulnick
Greta Rulnick

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