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Fine needle aspiration of the thyroid

Definition

Fine needle aspiration of the thyroid gland is a procedure to remove thyroid cells for examination. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located inside the front of the lower neck.

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 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 is applied to the biopsy site to stop any bleeding. The site is then 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 medicines 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 medicines that make it harder for your blood 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 afterward. You may also have slight bruising, which soon goes away.

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 nodules that are felt by the doctor or seen by ultrasound are noncancerous or cancerous.

Normal Results

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:

Risks

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

Lai SY, Mandel SJ, Weber RS. Management of thyroid neoplasms. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ, et al., eds. Cummings Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 124.

Schlumberger MJ, Fuketti S, Hay ID. Nontoxic diffuse and nodular goiter and thyroid neoplasia. In: McDermott MT, ed. Endocrine Secrets. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 14.


Review Date: 4/9/2014
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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