Cancer Home > Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

In order to make a thyroid cancer diagnosis, doctors will typically need to perform a physical exam, ask about the patient's personal and family medical history, and recommend additional tests and procedures. Exams and tests that are used to help diagnose thyroid cancer may include blood tests, an ultrasound, and radionuclide scanning; however, a biopsy is the only sure way to make a thyroid cancer diagnosis.

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis: An Introduction

If a person has possible thyroid cancer symptoms, doctors will probably need to:
 
  • Perform a physical exam
  • Ask about the patient's personal and family medical history
  • Recommend additional tests and procedures that examine the thyroid.
 

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis: Physical Exam and Medical History

During the physical exam, the doctor will feel the neck, thyroid, voice box, and lymph nodes in the neck for unusual growths (nodules) or swelling. The medical history will include questions about:
 
  • The patient's health habits
  • The patient's work history
  • A family history of any medical conditions, past illnesses, and treatments.
 

Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis: Exams and Tests

The exams and tests that are used to make a thyroid cancer diagnosis may include:
 
  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound
  • Radionuclide scanning
  • Biopsy.
 
Blood Tests
Blood tests are used to check for abnormal levels (too low or too high) of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood.
 
Thyroid stimulating hormone:
 
  • Is made by the pituitary gland in the brain
  • Stimulates the release of thyroid hormone
  • Controls how fast thyroid follicular cells grow.
 
Other blood tests are used to detect:
 
  • Abnormally high levels of calcium in the blood (if medullary thyroid cancer is suspected)
  • An altered RET (rearranged during transfection) gene
  • A high level of calcitonin.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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