Thyroid Cancer Canada
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How It’s Found


Thyroid Cancer – How it's Found

How is Thyroid Cancer Detected?

Thyroid cancer is detected by a procedure called Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB or FNA), also referred to as fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC). A thin, hollow needle is inserted into the thyroid nodule or lymph node to obtain cells for laboratory testing. Nodules greater than 1 or 1.5 cm are usually examined with an FNA.

Fine-needle aspiration biopsies are:

  • Very safe
  • Minor surgical procedures
  • Performed by a thyroid surgeon (usually an ENT) or a radiologist. An ultrasound is often done at the same time.

If you’re having an FNAB/FNA, you may be feeling scared or anxious. Remember that it is a safe procedure, and that 93-95% of all thyroid nodules are benign (non-cancerous).

Courtesy: Genzyme Corporation

Courtesy: Genzyme Corporation

What does a Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy procedure feel like?

An expert doctor-specialist (commonly a surgeon or radiologist) will insert a needle into one or more nodules in your neck area and withdraw cells, putting those cells on a small slide(s). He/she may put the needle in the same nodule more than once and take several samples to be sure the samples were withdrawn from the right places.

The doctor will ask you to put your head back for the procedure and you will feel a poking and pulling sensation. Most people feel that the process is somewhat uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking; but it’s usually a very short procedure. It is not uncommon to have some soreness from the FNA for a few days afterwards, feeling a bit like a bruise.

The procedure is very safe and does not cause spread of cancer.