Patients with thyroid tumors usually have only nodules and report no subjective symptoms such as pain or lethargy. As a result, examinations focus on discriminating between benign and malignant tumors.
Visual inspection and palpation on the neck area surrounding the thyroid are performed to examine the size, hardness, and extent of nodules.
These tests measure levels in the bloodstream of thyroid hormones and thyroglobulin (Tg), a protein synthesized in thyroid tissue.
An ultrasound probe is placed around the neck to emit ultrasonic waves. The reflected waves or “echoes” are converted into images for diagnosis. Nodules’ size, shape, and location are examined. In addition, this technique is used to evaluate whether the nodules are malignant or benign.
A fine needle is inserted into the thyroid nodules to collect cells, which subsequently will be assessed using a microscope. The needle is as thin as those used for taking blood.
The inside of the body is made visible through a series of X-ray measurements. The exam is used to determine whether cancer has spread to surrounding organs. Fine-grained images of the inside of the body can be continuously taken from various angles to obtain extraordinarily detailed imagery.
Radioactive iodine is administered to the patient. The tiny amount of radiation emitted by iodine in the body is captured and converted into images by a special device called a gamma camera. This examination not only reveals the size and shape of thyroid nodules, but also assesses thyroid function and determines whether there is recurrence or metastasis of cancer.
If no clear diagnosis can be made with the examinations described above, patients may be hospitalized to undergo surgery and histopathological examination. This allows doctors to remove the tumor and examine it in detail using microscopic techniques. This procedure can lead to a definitive diagnosis.