Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and your family’s. The interrogation can give him an idea of your state of health, but not a confirmation of the diagnosis. In most cases, thyroid cancer diagnosis include physical exam, blood tests, imaging techniques and biopsy.
Physical exam – during the physical exam, your doctor will examine your throat in search of signs of thyroid cancer: lump in the neck, swollen lymph nodes, etc. However, even if he finds vivid signs of the disease, he cannot conclude you have thyroid cancer; these signs are simply indicators. Therefore, to confirm the diagnosis, he will perform other diagnostic procedures.
Neck ultrasound – this is an imaging technique allowing your doctor to confirm presence of a nodule that was suspected during the physical examination. Using the ultrasound, your physician can measure the size of the tumor and precisely locate it within the thyroid gland. In addition, using ultrasound, your physician may identify and compare isolated or associated nature of the nodule with other similar formations in order to rule out other medical conditions of the thyroid gland.
Blood test – this exam allows your doctor to determine the level of your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which gives indirect information on the thyroid function. In addition, he will search for the level of calcitonin, a hormone secreted by certain cells of the thyroid gland in response to signals from the hypothalamus. The increase of calcitonin in blood concentration is a vivid marker of medullary thyroid cancer.
Needle biopsy – needle aspiration biopsy (NAB) is a technique consists of removing cells from your thyroid gland. The sample obtained is studied under microscope to look for cancer cells. This biopsy is the most reliable examination to distinguish cancerous nodules from benign nodules.
Scintigraphy – using this diagnostic procedure, a health care specialist can produce functional images of the thyroid gland to determine the size, shape and position of the thyroid gland. In general, the images are taken after ingestion of very low doses of radioactive marker. Once injected, the marker binds specifically to abnormal elements of the thyroid. Scintigraphy is indicated for the detection of abnormalities in the thyroid gland, including cancerous growth.