Each year, tens of thousands of patients have all or part of their thyroids removed to rule out cancer because of suspicious, but uncertain, test results. In the majority of these cases, however, the suspicious thyroid nodules are ultimately determined to be benign.
New research, led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) endocrinologist Dr. Erik Alexander, has discovered that a novel diagnostic test, measuring the expression of 167 genes, shows promise in more accurately determining which patients actually require thyroid surgery.
Thyroid nodules are common and can be an early sign of thyroid cancer. Ultrasound-guided needle biopsies accurately identify about 65 to 75 percent of nodules as benign and approximately five to ten percent of thyroid nodule biopsies as malignant. The remaining 15 to 30 percent of thyroid nodules gathered through needle biopsy cannot be clearly identified as either benign or malignant. For these patients, there remains serious concern about thyroid cancer, and in most cases, all or part of the thyroid is removed for final diagnosis. However, in the majority of these cases, the thyroid nodule turns out to be benign and the patient has undergone unnecessary surgery.