A biopsy with a needle (called fine needle aspiration or FNA) may be performed based on physical exam and ultrasound, or radiographic findings. In some patients, a biopsy may show a cancer, and surgery will be recommended. In others, biopsies may be indeterminate, and a cancer diagnosis is confirmed only after surgical removal. At times, a genetic analysis may be added to the biopsy, to help further clarify the risk of cancer and guide treatment decision-making.
The primary treatment for thyroid cancer is surgery. This surgery involves removing the thyroid gland and sometimes enlarged lymph nodes. Surgical treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis and is determined by the patient’s biopsy and imaging, as well as other factors. Treatment options include:
Papillary—This type of cancer is treated with thyroid surgery and, in selected cases, radioactive iodine.
Follicular—This type of thyroid cancer is treated similarly to papillary carcinoma, with thyroid surgery and, in selected cases, radioactive iodine.
Medullary—Treatment for medullary thyroid cancer is primarily surgical. If the cancer is found to be inherited then family members of the patient may need genetic screening testing.
Anaplastic—This cancer often grows very quickly and requires a medical team comprised of several specialists to determine the best treatment plan.