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New thyroid biopsy test improves accuracy

December 28, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the United States. Biopsies can catch the problem before it's too late, but many times the results are inconclusive. That means patients might have to have their thyroids removed even if there's no cancer. Now a new test is helping many people avoid a major surgery they do not need.

Half-a-million nodules on thyroid glands are biopsied each year and Dr. Paul Aoun says that up to 30 percent of the time, results come back inconclusive. The traditional next step for those patients has been to remove all or part of the thyroid.

"Only 25 percent end up having cancer," said Aoun, an endocrinologist.

Now, if a biopsy comes back inconclusive, doctors have a new tool to test the sample. The gene expression classifier test measures 142 gene patterns, including those present in thyroid cancer, and can reclassify nodules as benign or possibly malignant.

"That could result in saving about half the patients proceeding to unnecessary surgery," said Aoun.

A study showed the test is 94-percent accurate in re-classifying inconclusive results as benign. Another study showed the test helped reduce surgery rates by 90 percent.

Studies show incorporating the classifier test into the diagnosis process has resulted in higher quality of life for patients and less costs to the healthcare system.