Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Diagnosis of thyroid cancer

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for thyroid cancer may include:

  • Blood tests – to evaluate the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), calcium, calcitonin (a hormone produced by normal C cells of the thyroid gland) and other substances in the blood.
  • Thyroid scan – a type of nuclear scan that examines the thyroid after a person is given (by mouth or intravenously) a small amount of radioactive material that contains iodine or technetium. For a short period, the radioactive material emits radiation. A special camera, called a gamma camera, is used to determine the amount of radiation that has been absorbed by thyroid nodules. Cold nodules are nodules that absorb less radioactive material than the surrounding thyroid tissue, whereas hot nodules are nodules that absorb more radioactive material. 
  • Ultrasound (also called sonography) – a diagnostic imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and a computer to create images of blood vessels, tissues and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view internal organs as they function and to assess blood flow through various vessels. 
  • Biopsy – a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (with a needle or during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.