Pre-operative ultrasound scans help predict outcomes of thyroid cancer patients

Among other medical tests administered to patients with thyroid diseases, ultrasound scans of the neck may accurately predict a person's post-operative health outcomes, according to new scientific investigation.

A study published in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery found that scanning the neck compartments of patients treated for papillary thyroid cancer provided an accurate indication of a patient's six-year health outcomes.

Endocrinologists at the Universities of Arkansas and Texas came to this conclusion after examining the medical test data taken from more than 300 patients with papillary thyroid carcinomas over a 12-year period.

Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common variety of the disease. It constitutes at least 70 percent of all diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer, according to the Columbia University Department of Surgery. It is also the most treatable form of thyroid cancer.

Before surgery - which was typically a lateral neck dissection - the group of participants almost unilaterally had ultrasonographic scans performed on their necks. This is a non-invasive procedure designed to detect nodules in the lymph nodes and thyroid and salivary glands.

The outcomes of these scans were highly predictive of a patient's overall health over the next five to 10 years.

Those whose scans contained nodular abnormalities tended to see a reduction in their survival rates. The presence of an abnormality on ultrasound reduced the measured 10-year survival rate from more than 95 percent to 58 percent.

Overall, though, the rate of recurrence of papillary thyroid cancer was extremely low when surgery was prefaced with an ultrasound. The team found that the disease returned in just 0.3 percent of patients who'd had a pre-operative neck scan.

In the U.S., nearly 45,000 people are diagnosed with some form of thyroid cancer every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.