Tim Cunningham vividly remembers the sunny fall day when he learned that the lump in his throat might be cancerous. Before then, the series of tests he had endured was merely precautionary; cancer didn’t run in his family, so he didn’t believe he had anything to worry about.
“The third biopsy came back ‘suspicious for cancer,’ and surgical removal was recommended,” recalls Tim, 51, of Point Pleasant Beach. “I realized then that what I thought was nothing might actually be something.”
Several months earlier, Tim’s primary care physician felt a lump in his thyroid during his annual physical. After an ultrasound and biopsy of the nodule were inconclusive, a second biopsy was deemed “atypical.” When results from a third biopsy with genetic testing of the tissue came back as “suspicious,” Tim was referred to Alexander L. Shifrin, MD, surgical director of CentraState’s Endocrine Surgery Center.
“If you have a thyroid lump, it’s important to have it evaluated by those specifically trained in this field,” explains Dr. Shifrin, who performs 400 thyroid surgeries a year. “Biopsies of the thyroid can be classified as benign, suspicious, or positive for cancer. We often don’t know whether a nodule is cancerous until we take it out.”
Tim is young and physically active, and because the nodule was smaller than 4 centimeters, Dr. Shifrin recommended a less aggressive surgical approach. Based on current American Thyroid Association guidelines, the technique would remove just half of the thyroid. This would be enough to remove the cancer yet still preserve part of the thyroid gland and maintain some function. With this approach, Tim would also not need a radioactive iodine treatment.