Inova’s Thyroid Nodule Clinic Aims for Seamless, Expedited Care

Jina Kim, MD is a general surgeon and fellowship-trained in endocrine surgery. She is a member of the Inova Endocrine Tumor Program team at Inova Schar Cancer Institute.

One message I emphasize when I talk about thyroid cancer is that it is very treatable. The outcome for most patients with papillary and follicular thyroid cancers — which make up around 90 percent of thyroid cancers — is encouraging.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the period after a diagnosis is pleasant for patients. Cancer is scary, and in all too many instances, a thyroid cancer diagnosis starts a lengthy ordeal for patients. While desperate for more information, they are required to make multiple visits to the radiologist, locate an endocrinologist or a surgeon, and more.

It can take months.

That’s why I am pleased to be part of the new Thyroid Nodule Clinic at the Inova Saville Cancer Screening and Prevention Center. The clinic does more than offer state-of-the-art treatments for patients with thyroid cancer and non-malignant thyroid nodules. It streamlines the entire process for patients, improving the experience during a difficult time.

Thyroid Cancer Detection and Treatment

Thyroid cancer is relatively rare compared to other forms of cancer. Studies estimate that there will be 43,800 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2022 and 2,230 deaths. Women account for more than 70 percent of thyroid cancer cases historically. 

A thyroid cancer diagnosis is often surprising for a patient, for three primary reasons:

1) Thyroid cancer usually is diagnosed at a younger age than other cancers.

2) It’s a slow-growing cancer, so patients don’t always notice the changes that it produces.

3) There are very few known risk factors for thyroid cancer. We know that radiation exposure at a young age increases risk, but otherwise, a patient’s lifestyle, environmental factors and genetics have not been definitively shown to increase thyroid cancer risk.

The cancer is typically detected in one of two ways. The first comes after the patient or their physician notices a lump on the neck, and the patient undergoes imaging tests. The second occurs when, in an unrelated CT scan or other imaging study of the neck, the physician discovers a nodule.

When a thyroid nodule is found, the patient will typically undergo an ultrasound and biopsy to determine if it is cancerous.

Most patients with thyroid cancer will have half or all of their thyroid surgically removed. Some also will receive radioactive iodine therapy.

Patients can be prescribed a thyroid hormone pill after surgery, as well. It’s a small pill with a low side-effect profile — and a pill that many women who haven’t had thyroid cancer take, as well.

In most cases, patients have a very good prognosis after being treated for thyroid cancer, especially if they are younger than 55 years of age. Patients should expect lifelong monitoring after successful treatment, as well.

Getting a Plan From Saville Within Two Weeks

From detection to treatment, several physicians, from radiologists to oncologists,  assist with a thyroid cancer patient’s care. That can make the process unwieldy and time-consuming.

The Saville Center’s Thyroid Nodule Clinic aims to simplify the process. The clinic expedites the process for patients, offering seamless care throughout.

Clinic patients are able to schedule an ultrasound and a biopsy quickly. The radiology and pathology teams that handle the diagnostic portion of screenings are both in the Center, as are the physician assistants and nurses who guide the patient through the biopsy and help them understand what comes next.

If a patient needs further treatment, they are set up with an appointment with a surgeon like me or an endocrinologist — again, quickly.

This process could take six months outside of Saville Center. But Saville patients get a plan to address their thyroid issues within two weeks.

The combination of speed and counseling provided by the Clinic helps every patient we see. But it’s especially beneficial to patients who are less familiar with the healthcare system or live in outlying areas.

For those who are less familiar with the healthcare system, the assistance and guidance offered by the teams at the Thyroid Nodule Clinic provide peace of mind.

For those who live far away, having all key medical personnel in the same place means fewer long trips for appointments.

In the early months of the Thyroid Nodule Clinic’s work, I’ve noticed a sense of calm in our patients.

They tell us that services like the counseling they receive before a biopsy are reassuring. In that counseling, our team lets them know what the biopsy will be like, what the potential results could be, and how care will proceed based on the biopsy results.

Even if the biopsy reveals an unwanted result, patients feel better because they have been prepared.

As treatment progresses, it becomes clear that they are receiving the best care, efficiently.  It’s gratifying that we can have that kind of impact while a patient is facing one of the most challenging moments of their life.

Learn more about the Inova Endocrine Tumor Program or schedule a consultation at the Thyroid Nodule Clinic at Inova Saville Cancer Screening & Prevention Center.

Leave a Comment