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Fine needle aspiration of the thyroid

Definition

A fine needle aspiration of the thyroid gland is a procedure to remove thyroid cells for examination. The thyroid is located in the neck in front of the trachea (windpipe).

Alternative Names

Thyroid nodule fine needle aspirate biopsy; Biopsy - thyroid - skinny-needle; Skinny-needle thyroid biopsy

How the test is performed

This test may be done in the health care provider's office or in a hospital. Numbing medicine (anesthesia) may or may not be used because the needle is very thin.

You will lie on your back with a pillow under your shoulders and your neck extended. The biopsy site is cleaned. A thin needle is inserted into the thyroid, and a sample of thyroid cells and fluid are removed. The needle is then taken out.

Pressure will be applied to the biopsy site to stop any bleeding. The site will be covered with a bandage.

How to prepare for the test

Tell your health care provider if you have drug allergies, bleeding problems, or are pregnant. You should also make sure your health care provider has a current list of all medications you take, including herbal remedies and over-the-counter drugs.

A few days to a week before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it harder for your blod to clot. Talk with your doctor before stopping any drugs. The drugs you may need to stop taking include:

  • Aspirin
  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin)

How the test will feel

If numbing medicine is used, you may feel a sting as the needle is inserted and the medicine is injected.

As the needle passes into the thyroid, you may feel some pressure but it should not be painful.

You may have slight discomfort in your neck afterwards. You may also have a small amount of bruising, which will go away over time.

Why the test is performed

This is a test to diagnose thyroid disease or thyroid cancer. It is often used to find out if thyroid lumps that are felt by the doctor or seen by ultrasound are noncancerous or cancerous.

Normal Values

The thyroid tissue looks normal and the cells do not appear to be cancer under a microscope.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may mean:

What the risks are

The main risk is bleeding into or around the thyroid gland. If bleeding is severe, there may be pressure on the windpipe (trachea). This problem is rare.

References

Gharib H, Papini E, Paschke R, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Associazione Medici Endocrinologi, and European Thyroid Association Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice for the Diagnosis and Management of Thyroid Nodules. Endocr Pract. 2010;16(suppl 1):1-43.

Kim M, Ladenson P. Thyroid. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 233.


Review Date: 6/26/2012
Reviewed By: Shehzad Topiwala, MD, Chief Consultant Endocrinologist, Premier Medical Associates, The Villages, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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