Whole Body Scan

Another test that checks for the return or spread of thyroid cancer is called a whole body scan (WBS). To prepare for a WBS, you will be asked to swallow a capsule or liquid that contains a very small amount of radioactive iodine (RAI). This will be absorbed by any remaining thyroid cells in your body. You will then be asked to return for the scan in about 48 hours. This involves lying down under a large camera that scans for x-rays being emitted by any remaining radioactive iodine that may have been captured in your body. If any thyroid or thyroid cancer cells are present, they may show up as spots on the x-ray film. However, if only microscopic thyroid cancer cells are present in the body, they are not always visible on the scan.

How can you improve the sensitivity of a WBS?

In order to improve the sensitivity of a WBS, the test must be able to detect even small amounts of thyroid cells. With thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in your bloodstream, any thyroid cells that are present in your body will be stimulated to absorb more radioactive iodine, making it more likely that the WBS will detect them.

There are currently two options to increase TSH levels in your bloodstream:

  • Stop taking thyroid replacement hormones. This approach enhances the accuracy of the test, however, it will induce hypothyroidism, a condition that can potentially have a negative impact on your daily life. Visit the Hypothyroidism section to learn more.


  • Receive Thyrogen®, (thyrotropin alfa for injection), a version of TSH manufactured by biotechnology that is similar to the TSH that your body naturally produces. Thyrogen enhances the accuracy of the WBS test without inducing hypothyroidism because you can continue to take your thyroid hormone therapy. Thyrogen must be prescribed by your doctor. Go to About Thyrogen for more information.

Other tests

In addition to Tg testing and a whole body scan, doctors may recommend an ultrasound of the neck or other, more sophisticated imaging tests such as a positive emission tomography (PET) scan to see if any cancer has returned or spread. Ultrasound is being used more frequently to detect recurrence of cancer in the lymph glands of the neck.


Download these resources to learn more about thyroid cancer and Thyrogen, including how to manage your Thyrogen treatment.


Thyrogen® (thyrotropin alfa for injection) is indicated for use as an additional tool to identify thyroid disease (by testing the blood for a hormone called thyroglobulin), with or without a radiology test using a form of iodine, in the follow up of patients with a certain type of thyroid cancer (known as well differentiated thyroid cancer).

Thyrogen® (thyrotropin alfa for injection) is also indicated for use as a preparation for treatment with a form of iodine to remove left over thyroid tissue in patients who have had surgery to take out the entire thyroid gland for a certain type of thyroid cancer (known as well differentiated thyroid cancer) and who do not have signs of thyroid cancer which has spread to other parts of the body.

Important Safety Information

  • Since Thyrogen was first approved for use, there have been rare reports of events that led to death in patients with several serious health problems; rare reports of central nervous system problems such as stroke and weakness on one side of the body; and rare reports of a quick and painful growth of cancer tumors that have returned to different sites in the body.
  • Before getting Thyrogen, your doctor should talk to you about finding medical help immediately if you have any central nervous system problems after you get Thyrogen. Your doctor may need to treat you with a glucocorticoid (a medication to help prevent an increase in the size of the cancer tumor) if you may have cancer tumors near your windpipe, in your central nervous system, or in your lungs.
  • When Thyrogen is used to help detect thyroid cancer, there is still a chance all—or parts of—your cancer could be missed.
  • In a study of people being prepared for treatment with a form of iodine after thyroid surgery, results were similar between those who received Thyrogen and those who stopped taking their thyroid hormone. Researchers do not know if results would be similar over a longer period of time.
  • Your doctor may take extra steps to care for you during Thyrogen treatment if you have heart disease and large amounts of remaining thyroid tissue after surgery.
  • If you are over 65 years old and did not have your entire thyroid removed during treatment of your cancer, you may be at risk for abnormal heartbeat while receiving Thyrogen. Because of this, you and your doctor will need to carefully consider the risks and benefits of Thyrogen before starting it.
  • In clinical studies, the most common side effects reported were upset stomach, headache, tiredness, throwing up, dizziness, prickling and tingling sensation, weakness, difficulty sleeping, and diarrhea.

Please see full Prescribing Information.