New test could improve thyroid cancer diagnosis, study finds

With thyroid cancer on the rise, a new test has been introduced that could prevent thousands of unnecessary partial or total thyroid removals that happen each year.

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Since 1992, annual rates of thyroid cancer diagnoses in the U.S. have climbed from six to more than 14 per 100,000 adults, according to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.

The new test is a way to combat the limitations of the current method. With the current method of diagnosis, around 1 in 5 tests cannot confirm whether thyroid cancer is present. When these tests come back as inconclusive, doctors typically conduct a genetic test, but even these can result in false positives, meaning they show the cancer is present when in actuality, it isn't.

Researchers conducted a pilot study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The research compared molecular profiles from tissues of 178 people with or without thyroid cancer in order to develop a fingerprint of the cancer. They then tested its accuracy in a pilot trial involving 68 people who had undergone the traditional method for thyroid cancer testing.

The results of the study revealed the new fingerprint test produced false-positive results in around 1 in 10 cases. Overall, the new method was found to be faster and around two-thirds more accurate than the traditional method. Larger studies are needed to confirm the findings, however.