Detecting thyroid cancer using ultrasound

August 18, 2014 Joseph C. Sniezek

The incidence of thyroid cancer is steadily increasing in the U.S. while the reasons for this increase are still unclear.  No environmental exposure or lifestyle trend has been linked to this recent rise but interestingly, some researchers believe that the increasing use of ultrasound in evaluating the neck and thyroid has raised the number of cancers being detected at earlier stages.

Regardless of the cause of this recent uptick in thyroid cancer, there is no doubt that ultrasound has fundamentally changed the way in which thyroid lesions and cancers are evaluated and followed.

Ultrasound technology has undergone a dramatic improvement in recent years providing clear and precise images without exposing the patient to any radiation. Thyroid nodules that are suspicious for malignancy can now be identified before they are large enough to be felt in the neck by the patient or health care provider.

When a suspicious thyroid mass, also referred to as a nodule, is identified, ultrasound can be used to more accurately guide a needle biopsy with great precision directly into the most suspicious/abnormal parts of the nodule, which increases the accuracy of the biopsy. In this outpatient setting, the patient can be evaluated by physical examination and ultrasound, and potentially undergo a biopsy (when indicated), all during the initial consultation visit. After using ultrasound in the clinic for ten years, I have come to appreciate just how valuable it is for patients to physically see the nodule or mass that you are discussing. Further, patients love the ability to have their thyroid nodule evaluated and a treatment plan formed during their first clinic visit.

Recognizing this quantum leap in quality of care and patient convenience, the Swedish Cancer Institute is now offering a comprehensive program for managing neck masses and thyroid nodules. Patients can receive expert consultation and an ultrasound examination in a single visit and if necessary, a needle biopsy and pathology review will be done during this same appointment. This approach prevents multiple appointments and reduces delays in treatment. Patient convenience and efficiency will be markedly increased with this multi-disciplinary program, which is the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

For more information, please contact our office at 206-292-6464

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