PET Scan Thyroid Gland

Positron Emission Tomography technology has served a number of important functions in medicine since it began to be applied clinically in the early 1990s. One of the most important uses of this technology relates to PET scan thyroid gland use. PET scanning of the thyroid gland is important as it is estimated that thyroid disease affects 1 in 10 Americans. Additionally, the American Cancer Society estimates that 23,600 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States of America in 2004. Although thyroid cancer is not inherently a dangerous form of cancer, the threat of its spread means that early detection and treatment is vital.

About Thyroid Cancer

The American Cancer Society estimates that the year 2004 will have approximately 23,600 new cases of thyroid cancer. Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in the tissues of the thyroid gland become abnormal and form more cells in an uncontrolled manner. A tumor, which is a mass of tissue, forms in the thyroid gland that can either be benign (alive non-cancerous tissue) or malignant (dead cancerous tissue). The thyroid gland is located at the base of the throat and is responsible for the creation of important hormones which is instrumental in helping the body function normally. The thyroid gland contains two lobes with one located on the right side and the other on the left side.

Thyroid cancer is a form of cancer that is treatable when detected early but can become dangerous if it spreads to other areas of the body. There are four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. These forms of thyroid cancer are differentiated based on how the cancer cells look under a microscope and the chances of recovery depends on the type of thyroid cancer present in the patient.

Thyroid Gland and PET Scanning Diagnosis

When Positron Emission Tomography was first developed, it was done for the purpose to aid physicians in determining whether the thyroid gland was working properly in their patients. Consequently, PET imaging is an effective tool used to detect abnormalities in the thyroid gland, particularly in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer.

PET scans for the thyroid gland is one of the most effective imaging tools used in diagnosing stage of thyroid cancer treatment. As thyroid cancer has very little symptoms in its early stages, it is usually detected by a physician after a patient has complained of the following thyroid cancer symptoms: the presence of a lump or nodule in the front of the neck; hoarseness; neck or throat pain; enlarged lymph nodes; and difficulty swallowing, breathing, or speaking.

An effective method that physicians often use to detect the presence of thyroid cancer is PET imaging. Although anatomical imaging tools such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are effective imaging tools that are able to detect the presence of tumors, these imaging tools are limited as they are only able to detect anatomical changes in the body. In contrast, PET imaging produces images that detail biochemistry changes within the body and consequently is useful in thyroid cancer diagnosing and staging as it is able to determine whether a tumor that has been detected is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

PET scans involve the administering of a radioactive tracer that is a combination of a radioisotope (a radioactive compound whose movements are detectable by a PET scanner) with a natural body compound. In thyroid cancer diagnosis, the radioactive tracer used in the Positron Emission Tomography procedure is Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), which combines the natural body compound glucose with the radioisotope Fluorine-18. This radioactive tracer, or radiopharmaceutical, is used in thyroid cancer detection as the radioactive compound that it uses has a short half-life and will disappear from the body within hours. Therefore, PET scan for thyroid glands is safe and the patient should free themselves of any worry about the radiation content of this procedure.

Additionally, thyroid cancer PET scan uses FDG as it contains the body compound glucose. The use of FDG, which shares a similar structure to glucose, is important, as the absorption of glucose is effective in determining whether a cell is healthy or cancerous. PET imaging traces the absorption rate of FDG by cells and can determine whether cancerous cells are present in the thyroid, as glucose (which FDG shares a similar structure) is absorbed at a faster rate by cancerous cells compared to healthy cells. By tracing the movement of FDG in a patient’s organ, the physician is able to determine whether the thyroid tumor detected through anatomic imaging is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). From the images produced by the PET scan, a physician will be able to make an informed diagnosis, as these images are able to show whether the thyroid gland is normal and healthy or if there is the presence of thyroid cancer. This will reduce the number of unnecessary surgeries performed on patients who have tumors present in their body, but whose tumors are actually benign and therefore not indicative of cancer.

PET Scan and Thyroid Cancer Staging

Additionally, PET imaging is able to determine the extent of the cancer spread in an important medical stage that is known as staging. Staging commences following thyroid cancer diagnosis and is used to determine if or how much the thyroid cancer has spread. The staging component of thyroid cancer treatment is critical as it provides the necessary information for physicians in determining an appropriate medical course of thyroid cancer treatment.

Through PET imaging, a physician is able to determine whether or not cancerous cells have spread from the thyroid glands to other parts of the body. Positron Emission Tomography involves the administration of a radioactive tracer that combines a radioisotope, a radioactive compound that is detected by a PET scanner, with a natural body compound, which the body is able to integrate into its system without any negative effects. In thyroid cancer staging, the radioactive tracer used is Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) that combines the natural body compound glucose with the radioisotope Fluorine-18. Although many patients have concerns about the radioactive component contained in PET imaging, Fluorine-18 contains a short half-life and disappears from the body within hours. Consequently, the PET procedure is a safe one for patients.

In the staging process, PET scans are the most effective imaging tool in determining the spread of cancerous cells. Other imaging tools such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and x-rays are able to determine the possibility of cancer spread by examining changes in the anatomical structure of organs and tissues. These imaging tools then detect cancer spread by examining other body organs for anatomical changes. Consequently, these anatomic imaging tools detect cancer spread by identifying instances where organs or tissues have shown increased mass sizes.

However, PET determines cancer spread more comprehensively than these other imaging tools, as it detects biochemistry changes among these organs and tissues. By tracing the spread of FDG in a patient’s body, PET imaging is able to establish patterns of cancer spread based on the body’s chemical reactions to FDG. As it is similar in structure to glucose, PET determines cancer spread by studying the absorption of FDG by the patient’s organs and tissues. FDG is absorbed at a faster rate by cancerous organs and tissues than healthy organs and tissues. By studying the biochemical reaction of the patient’s body, PET scan is able to produce the most accurate analysis of whether thyroid cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

This information is critical in determining an accurate outlook of patient recovery.

In cases where PET imaging has shown that cancerous tumors are at an early stage, surgery is often the best option. Surgery can cure thyroid cancer but its use depends on what stage it is at. Other medical treatments to treat thyroid cancer include: radiation therapy, which is a high energy X-ray that kills cancer cells; chemotherapy, which uses drugs to effectively treat lung cancer; and hormone therapy.

The medical course of action used to treat thyroid cancer is often determined by staging. Staging is a vital step in the patient’s road to health recovery, as all of these treatment options are contingent on the size of the cancerous tumor, the spread of cancerous cells, and the location of the cancerous tumor. A PET scan is the most effective thyroid cancer staging tool and is a vital tool used by physicians in providing a specialized, medical plan to eradicate lung cancer from the patient.

PET and Thyroid Cancer Follow-Up

Another valuable function of Positron Emission Tomography in thyroid cancer treatment is its role in studying the patient’s recovery. Following staging, a physician will recommend a medical course of action that they feel are the most appropriate and effective. In most instances, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of both is used to treat lung cancer. Although these treatments are usually effective, an important component of thyroid cancer treatment is determining whether active cancer cells have remained in the body following treatment. For thyroid cancer patients, the rate of recurrence can be as high as 30%.

Prior to the clinical use of PET scan, physicians applied radiation therapy and chemotherapy according to standard rules. However, with PET imaging, it is now possible for physicians to specifically cater thyroid cancer treatment to your particular situation. This is because Positron Emission Tomography allows a physician to view the location, extent, and resilience of a patient’s thyroid cancer.

Additionally, PET imaging is the most effective diagnostic tool in detecting thyroid tumor response to therapy. PET scans study the chemical function of the thyroid and other organs and tissues and is able to produce images that show visual biochemical changes in the body caused by thyroid cancer. Unlike such anatomic imaging tools as x-rays, computed tomagraphy (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that detail changes in body structure such as the presence of tumors, PET imaging is able to determine whether a tumor is benign (alive tissue and non-cancerous) or malignant (dead tissue and cancerous).

PET scans involve the administration of the radioactive tracer, Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) that combines the natural body compound glucose with the radioisotope Fluorine-18. FDG safely travels through the body where a PET scanner monitors its movement within the body. A radioactive tracer that disappears from the body within hours, FDG is able to detect cancer recurrence in successfully treated lesions as well as determine whether tumors identified in an anatomic imaging scan are cancerous or not.

This is because FDG is similar in structure to glucose, which cancerous cells absorb at a faster rate than healthy cells. By tracing the absorption rates of FDG by the targeted cells, a physician is able to determine whether successfully treated lesions are showing signs of cancer recurrence. Additionally, PET imaging is able to detect cancer recurrence in lymph nodes and/or scar tissue from surgery from surgery or another lesion sooner than an anatomical imaging procedure. PET scans are also able to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous tumors that are detected by anatomical imaging and are still present despite thyroid cancer treatment.



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