An accurate diagnosis can help your doctor come up with a game plan to treat your cancer.

RET-altered papillary thyroid cancer may cause symptoms, or it could pop up on a routine exam.

If your doctor suspects cancer, they can use many different tests to confirm a diagnosis.

Symptoms of RET-Altered Papillary Thyroid Cancer

RET-altered papillary thyroid cancer is caused by an error in one of your genes -- called RET. Typically, you aren’t born with this defect; it usually happens during your lifetime.

You might not have symptoms, but if you do, they could include:

  • A lump in your neck that may grow quickly
  • Voice changes, such as hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Neck or throat pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes (small glands that are part of your immune system) in your neck
  • A constant cough


How Is RET-Altered Papillary Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?

Your health care provider may recommend one or many different tests to make a diagnosis of RET-altered papillary thyroid cancer.

Physical exam

During a physical exam, your doctor will feel your thyroid and lymph nodes. They might also ask you questions about your symptoms, risk factors, and family history.

Blood tests

There aren’t blood tests to diagnose thyroid cancer, but some can tell your doctor if your thyroid works properly.


An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of structures in your body. The images can sometimes help doctors find out if a lump is likely to be cancerous or noncancerous.

Radioiodine scan

You’ll swallow or be injected with a low dose of radioactive iodine, called I-131. Your thyroid gland absorbs this iodine, and a special camera lets doctors see the radioactivity. Lumps that have less iodine than other parts of the thyroid might be cancerous.

Other imaging tests

Other imaging tests can help your doctor see suspicious areas and find out if your cancer has spread outside of your thyroid. These may include:

  • Computed tomography (CT): This scan takes detailed images of your thyroid and can reveal spots where the cancer spreads.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses radio waves and magnets to take pictures. It can spot thyroid lumps and uncover cancer that’s spread. 
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): It lets doctors see your organs and tissues. You’ll get a special type of sugar that a camera can detect in your body. Cancerous areas will show up on the scan.
  • Chest X-ray: If you’ve already gotten a diagnosis of thyroid cancer, your doctor might do a chest X-ray to see if the cancer has spread to your lungs.


A biopsy is a procedure where doctors remove a small piece of tissue from the lump in your thyroid to check it for cancer. This is the only way to tell for sure if you have cancer. 

Doctors usually do a fine needle aspiration biopsy on thyroids. During this procedure, they’ll place a hollow, thin needle directly into the lump to remove a sample.

What About Gene Testing?

A gene test can help your doctor learn more about the nature of your cancer.

Some doctors now routinely test thyroid biopsy samples for gene mutations.

If doctors find your cancer is due to a genetic change, such as RET-altered papillary thyroid cancer, you might benefit from a different treatment than someone who doesn’t have a gene defect.

Some people with a strong family history of thyroid cancer may want to have a blood test to look at their genes. This can also tell you if you have an RET gene mutation, which could cause RET-altered papillary thyroid cancer or another type of thyroid cancer.

Also, a genetic test may reveal that you have other gene mutations that can raise your risk of thyroid cancer or another type of cancer.

WebMD Medical Reference

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