Cancer biomarkers could help thyroid patients avoid surgery

Out of the 30% of women who have a thyroid growth sometime in their life, doctors can rule out cancer in about 80% them based on biopsies. The other 20%, however, is a problem. Out of that group, about three-quarters of the growths are benign, but it takes surgery to confirm that. "The vast majority of patients who get this indeterminate answer end up having at least part of their thyroid gland removed," Paul Weinberger of Georgia Health Sciences University said in a release. "And we end up saying afterward: 'Oh, good news, this was not cancer.'" Clearly, what is needed is a biomarker for thyroid cancer that is dependable enough so that no cutting has to happen to make the determination.

Weinberger, armed with a Young Investigator Combined Award from the American Head and Neck Society/American Academy Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, is searching for what he calls "the Holy Grail everybody is looking for: blood-based biomarkers of cancer."

Suspects number one and number two are Galectin-3 and HBME-1. All we know about these proteins right now is that they are at the scene of the crime when thyroid cancer rears its ugly head. Weinberger believes that these proteins could be named in a lineup in the early stages of the disease through a simple needle biopsy. He's going to use super-sensitive mass-spectrometry technology to detect amounts of both proteins, then see if they indicate cancer. If that holds up, he'll study it in current patients before asking for FDA approval.

- read the release from Georgia Health Sciences University