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.

Quick GuideThyroid Problems Explained

Thyroid Problems Explained

What are the complications of fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid?

Most patients notice very little bleeding or swelling. There may be some discomfort in the area for a few hours after the biopsy, which is usually relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol). Some patients like to put an ice pack over the area when they get home, but most do well without such measures. The risks of fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid include bleeding, infection, and cyst formation, but these complications are exceedingly rare. Patients should contact their doctor if they notice any excessive bruising or swelling in the area of the biopsy, if they have persistent pain in the area, or if they develop a fever.

What happens to the thyroid tissue obtained at the fine needle aspiration biopsy?

After the procedure, the tissue obtained is prepared onto glass slides and sent to the pathologist for evaluation. First, the pathologist determines whether or not enough thyroid tissue has been obtained for analysis. (When there is an insufficient amount, a repeat fine needle aspiration biopsy is necessary.) After analysis, the tissue is classified. Although the classifications used by pathologists vary, the tissue is usually reported as (1) benign; (2) malignant; (3) suspicious; or (4) indeterminate. The chance of a false negative test (a test report that is negative when cancer is actually present) varies from 0-5%, depending on where the test is performed. The chance of a false positive (a test report showing cancer when there is no cancer present) is less than 5% and is usually due to the presence of degenerating cells or atypical cells. These results are reported back to the doctor's office, usually within one week. At this point, the doctor discusses the implications of the report and outlines further treatment, if needed based on the results.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/2/2016
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