Thyroid cancer detection: What is screening for thyroid disease?
Thyroid cancer screening aims to detect thyroid cancer before symptoms develop. This may be appropriate in patients who have an increased risk. Many people think screening is a good thing. However, there are good reasons why you might choose not to be screened for thyroid disease. Screening tests aren’t 100 percent accurate. Some people who are screened for thyroid disease will get an abnormal result even though they do not have thyroid disease. Others may receive a normal screening and have thyroid disease. These things happen with all screening tests. The symptoms of thyroid cancer may be vague and are similar to those associated with more common illnesses that are not cancer.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer may include:
- A Goitre, an unusual lump in the neck
- Swollen neck lymph nodes
- Persistent pain in the throat and neck
Tests to diagnose thyroid cancer include:
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Imaging; including a thyroid scan, ultrasound, CT and PET scanning
- A fine needle biopsy of a suspicious thyroid nodule
- Removal of part or the whole thyroid gland for formal histopathology testing
Screening aims to detect thyroid disease early, before there are any symptoms
Whether you think it is worthwhile to get screened is your decision. There is no right or wrong choice. Some people will choose to be screened. And others will choose not to be screened. Screening for noncancerous thyroid disease that increases or decreases the amount of thyroid hormones in the body involves a simple blood test. About 14 in 1,000 women and about 9 in 1,000 men aged 60 years or older probably have undetected thyroid disease involving abnormal thyroid hormone levels.
Through screening, these people may be identified and treated. Treatment is likely to be effective for those with clearly abnormal thyroid hormone levels. There is no good evidence on whether treatment is helpful in people with only mildly abnormal thyroid hormone levels.
What is involved in thyroid cancer screening?
Cancer screening is not just a matter of having a quick test. You need to consider what might happen after you get your screening test result. Doctors screen for thyroid cancer by examining the gland, to check for a lump or nodule. If a doctor feels a nodule, it does not mean cancer is present. Most thyroid nodules are not cancer.
There are two methods of investigating a thyroid lump or nodule:
- Thyroid ultrasound, to locate and describe the lump
- Thyroid biopsy, to determine if the lump may be cancerous
Thyroid ultrasound creates pictures by bouncing sound waves off the gland. This technique is painless and quick. But it cannot determine whether a lump is cancerous. The ultrasound device uses sound waves that people cannot hear. A computer uses the echoes to create a picture called a sonogram. From the picture, the doctor can see how many nodules are present, how big they are, and whether they are solid or filled with fluid.
If you have an ultrasound, your doctor will arrange for you to have a scan at an x-ray practice or clinic. The scan is quick and painless. If thyroid nodules may be seen on the scan thyroid biopsy will usually be needed to determine the cause of the nodules. Accurate diagnosis of the cause of thyroid nodules requires thyroid biopsy or surgery to remove the nodule for accurate diagnosis by pathology.
If you have any questions about thyroid or parathyroid surgery, you should speak to your local doctor, who will arrange to contact your thyroid surgeon.