Testing for thyroid cancer just got easier and less costly for millions of people across the country, thanks to technology developed by UPMC. The ThyroSeq\u00ae Genomic Classifier was recently approved for coverage by Medicare \u2014 the first step in making it available to more than 50 million people nationwide.\n\u201cWe\u2019ve spent the last 11 years optimizing this technology and making it better,\u201d says lead investigator Yuri Nikiforov, MD, PhD, professor of pathology and director of UPMC\u2019s Division of Molecular and Genomic Pathology. \u201cHaving it approved by Medicare is a big achievement. Patients can now have full access to the test.\u201d\nCommon Disease, Costly Testing\nUPMC scientists developed the ThyroSeq test in the Molecular and Genomic Pathology Lab at UPMC. This next-generation, sequencing-based test evaluates thousands of genetic variants for cancer, or a malignancy, in the thyroid.\nThe thyroid is a small two-lobe gland in the neck that produces the hormones that regulate metabolism. It can develop nodules that may be cancerous, especially in women. The risk of thyroid cancer also increases with age, says Dr. Nikiforov. \u201cAfter age 50, about half of all women have thyroid nodules,\u201d he says. The American Cancer Society reports that nearly 54,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with thyroid cancer every year.\nOf course, not all nodules are malignant. And thyroid cancer tends to develop slowly, so getting an early diagnosis can be a literal lifesaver. For years, the standard practice has been to insert a needle into the nodule to remove cells and then study them under a microscope to determine whether they\u2019re cancerous. In 70 to 80 percent of cases, doctors can determine whether the cells are cancerous from that initial sample, says Dr. Nikiforov.\n\u201cBut in the rest of the cases, the results are inconclusive. We cannot determine whether they are benign or malignant,\u201d he notes. Before ThyroSeq, a patient with an ambiguous initial result had to undergo surgery \u2014 which involved removing at least half the thyroid \u2014 to determine if a nodule was cancerous.\n\u201cIt was costly and patients often had to take synthetic hormones for the rest of their lives,\u201d Dr. Nikiforov said. And in three out of four patients, the nodule proved to be benign.\nGame-Changing Technology\nThyroSeq helps patients and doctors by reducing the need for unnecessary thyroid surgeries. Dr. Nikiforov explains that with ThyroSeq, a fine needle aspirator and a small tube are used to collect cells from the nodule, which are then stored in a freezer. \u201cIf the cytology is ambiguous, the patient doesn\u2019t have to come back for another appointment. We can use the sample we\u2019ve already collected,\u201d says Dr. Nikiforov.\nUPMC has offered ThyroSeq to its patients since 2014 and it has been used in thyroid clinics in all 50 states. Dr. Nikiforov says patients have come from as far as Singapore and Russia to access it.\nThe technology for ThyroSeq didn\u2019t exist a decade ago. \u201cWe didn\u2019t know all the genetic markers of thyroid cancer,\u201d adds Dr. Nikiforov. \u201cIn the past decade, we\u2019ve found thousands of gene variations.\u201d\nDr. Nikiforov\u2019s research continues as his team works to identify additional genetic markers for thyroid cancer: \u201cWe now have identified nearly 97 percent of all the genetic markers. We\u2019re very close to that magic number of 100 percent.\u201d\nFor more information about the services UPMC offers thyroid patients, visit the Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center or call 412-586-9205.