New test to diagnose thyroid cancer

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --

Thyroid cancer is the most rapidly increasing type of cancer in the U.S, with 63,000 new cases diagnosed in the past year. Traditionally, doctors diagnose thyroid cancer with a fine needle biopsy -- a painful procedure that is only accurate 50 percent of the time -- meaning additional surgery for some patients. Researchers have developed a new test that improves diagnosis -- the first time around.

Kris Provence, 38, is an avid outdoorsman. But when Kris discovered a lump in his neck earlier this year, it stopped him in his tracks.

"The first word I thought of was cancer. And that scared me to death," Kris Provence told ABC30.

Kris tested positive -- but the numbers were on his side. Thyroid cancer has a 97 percent five-year survival rate. Also in his favor -- a new diagnostic tool.

Dr. Linwah Yip has studied the use of a molecular testing panel researchers say improves diagnosis by 30 percent.

"We take the cells from the biopsy and we actually put them through genetic testing -- looking for mutations or gene changes that are often found in thyroid cancer," Linwah Yip, M.D., Associate Professor of Surgery, Surgical Oncologist and Endocrinologist at UPMC told ABC30.

Before molecular testing, patients who had unclear results after a biopsy needed surgery to remove half the thyroid. Then if doctors found cancer, a second surgery would be necessary

Doctors say the molecular panel reduces that burden.

"It saves them time off of work. It saves them trips to the hospital -- additional testing if we need it," said Dr. Yip.

One surgery, and months later, Kris is cancer-free.

"I feel like a million dollars," Provence said.

Doctor Yip says surgeons don't automatically remove the entire thyroid unless cancer is confirmed because the patient would then become dependent upon thyroid medication for the rest of his life. While the molecular testing is not the gold standard for diagnosis, yet, the American Thyroid Association has changed its guidelines to add that doctors may consider using the molecular "markers" when the initial biopsy is inconclusive.

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Allison Hydzik