Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy of the Thyroid

  • Medical Author:
    Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C)

    Ruchi Mathur, MD, FRCP(C) is an Attending Physician with the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and Associate Director of Clinical Research, Recruitment and Phenotyping with the Center for Androgen Related Disorders, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Quick GuideThyroid Anatomy, Symptoms, and Disorders

Thyroid Anatomy, Symptoms, and Disorders

Fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) of the thyroid gland; why is it done?

A biopsy to obtain tissue for analysis is the best technique for detecting or ruling out the presence of cancer. For many years, a core biopsy of the thyroid was the procedure of choice. This method involved a large biopsy, which was often more difficult for patients. fine needle aspiration biopsy has now become the method of choice for obtaining samples of thyroid tissue. The procedure is technically quite simple. When performed properly, the testing has a false negative rate of less than 5%. This means that a positive finding, such as cancer, will be missed fewer than five times out of 100.

The fine needle aspiration is also performed to treat thyroid cysts. A thyroid cyst is a fluid-filled sac within the thyroid gland. Aspiration of the cyst with a needle and syringe can shrink the swelling from the cyst and the fluid removed can be analyzed for cancer.

Should fine needle aspiration biopsy be done on all thyroid nodules?

There are certain situations in which your physician may elect not to perform a biopsy of a nodule. For example, in a patient with an over- active thyroid (hyperthyroidism), the chance for a nodule to be cancerous is significantly less, particularly if other studies (such as nuclear thyroid imaging) show that the nodule is producing thyroid hormone (a "hot" nodule).

A doctor may recommend fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid in the following situations:

  • To make a diagnosis of a thyroid nodule;
  • To help select therapy for a thyroid nodule;
  • To drain a cyst that may be causing pain; or
  • To inject a medication to shrink a recurrent cyst.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/21/2015

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