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What is thyroid cancer staging? Staging describes the size of the cancer and whether it has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body. Staging and type of thyroid cancer will help the doctors decide on what treatment protocol will be used. The prognosis of the cancer can be predicted by the staging information. How is thyroid cancer staging results determined? The first step in the process is having a physical examination and the taking of medical history. The signs and symptoms a patient may present may be swelling in the neck, a nodule or lump in the neck, hoarseness or changes in voice. The doctor will also ask questions of family thyroid history because thyroid disease or cancer in your family,places you are at a higher risk. The second step is imaging testing. These are chest x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, MRIs, and nuclear medicine scans. Chest x-ray are taken to see if the cancer has spread to the lungs especially if the diagnosis is follicular thyroid cancer. Ultrasound is used to determine the size of the nodule and if the nodule is solid or filled with fluid. A solid nodule is more likely to be cancerous. Ultrasound will be used to check the lymph nodes in the area and determine if the cancer may have spread. A fine needle aspiration, the taking of a fluid sample from the nodule, can be done with the guidance of ultrasound.

A computed tomography scan (CT) provides more detail than an x-ray. It creates images of soft tissue in the body. A drink of a contrasting solution or injecting of an intravenous line with a contrasting dye will be administered to provide better outline structures of the body. The CT will help determine size and location of the thyroid cancer and if it has spread to near by lymph nodes. Sometimes needle biopsies are performed when having a CT scan. Magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) is another alternative to finding the cancer in the thyroid and to determine if it has spread to other parts of the body. This scan, although it can be an uncomfortable and noisy procedure, gives a very detailed image of the thyroid gland and the soft tissues in the neck area.

Nuclear medicine scans, radioiodine and positron emission tomography (PET scan), will be used when the diagnosis of thyroid cancer is certain. These procedures involve the swallowing or injecting through intravenous line of substances that the thyroid cells will absorb and will show up on the scan. Radioactive iodine is used in the radioiodine scan and a radioactive type of glucose related sugar substance is used for the PET scan. Special cameras will detect where the substances goes and help locate the cells in the body that are not behaving normally. The third step is taking a biopsy of the nodule. As mentioned in step two, a fine needle aspiration

is performed with the guidance of of ultrasound or a computed tomography scan. A small sample of the cells are extracted from the suspicious nodule or area and these cells are examined under a microscope. If the nodule or cyst is very obvious this procedure may be done in the doctor's office. If the results from the fine needle aspiration comes back as "suspicious", another biopsy may be done using a bigger needle to extract a larger number of cells. Another alternative is a surgical biopsy or a lobectomy. A lobectomy is the removal of half of the thyroid gland.

Elaine Savard is a thyroid cancer survivor since 1997. is a website describing the signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer, and its treatment.

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