Using New Tests to Better Diagnose Thyroid Cancer

By Briana Vannozzi

More than half a million thyroid nodules will be detected and tested for cancer this year alone. And a disproportionate amount will be found in women, which is why researchers with Interpace Diagnostics are eager for two new tests to hit the market this spring.

“It’s ThyraMIR which is a rule out test in combination with ThyGenX which is a rule in test,” said Interpace Diagnostics CEO Nancy Lurker.

The tests use molecular diagnostics — the use of a person’s genetic code to accurately diagnose hard to find cancer cells.

“When a doctor does a general exam they’ll often palpate your neck and then oftentimes will find a nodule and so then they have to decide OK do we just watch it? Or do we go in and do what’s called a fine needle aspirate of that nodule?” Lurker explained.

The problem with that form of biopsy? Nearly 30 percent of results come back inconclusive.

“So today what happens in almost all cases, they take you in for surgery because they don’t want to run the risk that you have cancer. And unfortunately of the 30 percent that go in for surgery, 80 percent of the time it’s benign,” Lurker said.

Which means the patient may be free of cancer, but they’re also without a thyroid.

“And the thyroid gland produces hormones that have a very large impact,” said Interpace Diagnostics Chief Scientific Officer and Medical Director Dr. Sidney Finkelstein.

Patients like Joan Shey, who did test positive for cancer, are left with large scars, sometimes face vocal chord problems and must live on synthetic hormones for the rest of their life.

“I had a surgery which included the removal of my thyroid gland and 39 lymph nodes in my neck,” said Shey, a thyroid cancer patient at Light of Life Foundation.

There were just 1,700 cases a year back when she was first tested.

“My biopsy came back inconclusive and I was watched for two years then went back to be re biopsied to find out it was in fact malignant and at that stage I had advance papillary thyroid cancer,” Shey said.

“The earlier one tries to identify cancer actually the more challenging it can be for a pathologist using traditional microscopic methods to be able to clearly discriminate between cancer and normal and that is the situation with these nodules,” Finkelstein said.

Which is why these tests could help avoid situations like Shey’s. They have a 94 percent accuracy rate when used together.

“They are looking for distinct abnormalities in the cell as they compare with the normal cell,” Finkelstein said.

Thyroid cancer does have a high cure rate because of its slow growing nature. The researchers say patients can expect to have access to the diagnostics this spring.