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Further tests for thyroid cancer

Men and woman discussing thyroid cancer

This page tells you about tests you may have if you are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Further tests for thyroid cancer

If tests show you have thyroid cancer, your specialist will ask you to have further tests to see how big the cancer is and whether it has spread. This will help your doctor to decide which treatment you need. Your doctor will examine your neck and nearby areas to see if there are any enlarged lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells from your thyroid cancer. Further tests may include CT or MRI scans. Sometimes, thyroid scans (using a very small amount of radioactive iodine) or PET scans are used after treatment. They can see if any cancer cells are left.

After the tests

You will be asked to go back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This is bound to take a little time, even if only a day or two. You may feel very anxious while you are waiting for results. It may help to talk to your clinical nurse specialist (CNS), or a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing thyroid cancer section.

 

 

Why you need more tests

Further tests will help your doctor to decide on the treatment you need. If you have thyroid cancer, your doctor needs to check how large the cancer is and whether it has spread outside the thyroid gland. Your doctor will examine your neck and nearby areas to see if there are any enlarged lymph nodes that may contain cancer cells from your thyroid cancer.

 

CT and MRI scans

You may have scans of your neck and chest to see if there are any signs of thyroid cancer elsewhere in your body. CT scans can be used to look for cancer anywhere else in the body, especially the lungs. MRI scans can pick up cancer that has spread into the soft tissues, such as in the neck. If you have been diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer, you may have a CT or MRI of your abdomen as well.

There is detailed information about having a CT scan and an MRI scan in the cancer tests section.

 

Thyroid scan

You may hear this called an isotope scan or a gamma camera scan. It is used sometimes as a follow up test after surgery to remove the thyroid gland. The scan uses a very small amount of radioactive iodine called Iodine 131 (I-131). The iodine is injected into a vein in your arm. You will then be asked to lie on the scanner couch. The gamma camera is put over your neck for a minute or two. 

Thyroid cells pick up iodine much more quickly than any other cells in the body. So the iodine collects in your thyroid cells and the radiation can be seen on your scan. Thyroid cancer cells do not pick up iodine as quickly. So they may show up on the scan as areas with no radiation inside the thyroid.

This type of scan may also be used to check whether any cancer cells are left in other parts of the body after radioactive iodine treatment for papillary or follicular thyroid cancer.

The test is painless. The amount of radiation is so very small that it will not harm you. It will not affect anyone else either.

 

PET scan

PET scans can show up areas of active cancer cells. They are sometimes used to see if the cancer has come back after treatment if other tests prove negative. You may have to travel to another hospital to have a PET scan, as they are not available in all hospitals in the UK.

 

After your tests

You will be asked to go back to the hospital when your test results have come through. This is bound to take a little time. You may feel very anxious while you are waiting for the results. At the hospital you will usually have a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) who can answer any questions and support you. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience.

You can look for information and support on our thyroid cancer organisations page. You can also find information about counselling services on our counselling organisations page.

If you want to find people to share experiences with on line, you could use CancerChat, our online forum. This is a free service that aims to put people with similar medical conditions in touch with each other.

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Updated: 10 April 2013