Updated
November 30th, 2019

New Test Reduces Unnecessary Thyroid Surgeries

Preoperative thyroid cancer test is faster and more accurate than current diagnostics

woman looking towards the sky

Texas-based researchers announced they developed a new preoperative test for thyroid cancer that is faster and more accurate than current diagnostic tests.

Using a technology called mass spectrometry imaging, this new metabolic thyroid test identifies metabolites produced by cancerous cells that act as a kind of diagnostic fingerprint. 

Although more validation will be necessary before it can be used clinically, the new metabolic thyroid test developed at The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine shows promise for preventing thousands of unnecessary thyroid removals each year.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on October 22, 2019, this clinical study tested 68 new patients, with about 33 percent of whom had received inconclusive Fine-Needle Aspiration (FNA) results. 

The new metabolic thyroid test returned a false positive nearly 10 percent of the time and could have prevented 17 patients in the study from undergoing unnecessary surgeries.

“If we could prevent people from having surgery they don’t need and enable them to have a more precise diagnosis, we can improve treatment for patients and lower costs for the health care system,” said Livia S. Eberlin, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and diagnostic medicine at The University of Texas at Austin and co-principal investigator, said in a related press release.

Each year, about 52,000 new cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed in the USA, says Cancer.org.

Unfortunately, the test used for diagnosis, FNA, is inconclusive about 20 percent of the time. 

When a pathologist is unable to confirm the presence of cancer, the patient may receive a follow-up genetic test that can produce false-positive results.

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Given these uncertainties, doctors often recommend removing part or all of the thyroid.

The improved accuracy would prevent unnecessary surgeries, many of which lead patients to need hormone replacement therapy for the rest of their lives or to have to cope with other consequences of having all or part of their thyroid removed.

James Suliburk, M.D., who operates at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center and Harris Health System’s Ben Taub Hospital, added, “We are able to do this analysis directly on the FNA sample and much more rapidly than the current process, which could take between 3 and 30 days.”

The team is now preparing to start a two-year validation study on FNAs from about a thousand new patients collected in the U.S., Brazil, and Australia. If the results hold up, they hope the technology will be translated to the clinic as a routine diagnostic tool.

A provisional patent application is owned by the Board of Regents of the University of Texas System and Baylor College of Medicine that relates to the use of mass spectrometry to diagnose thyroid cancer.

This study was funded by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas through an Early Translation Research Award to Eberlin and Suliburk.

Thyroid Cancer news published by Vax Before Cancer