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Fine needle aspiration of the thyroid

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.

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 may not need this medicine.

You lie on your back with a pillow under your shoulders with your neck extended. The biopsy site is cleaned. A thin needle is inserted into your thyroid, where it collects a sample of thyroid cells and fluid. The needle is then taken out. If the provider cannot feel the biopsy site, they may use ultrasound or a CT scan to guide where to put the needle. Ultrasound and CT scans are painless procedures that show images inside the body.

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 provider if you have drug allergies, bleeding problems, or are pregnant. Also, make sure your 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 your biopsy, you may be asked to stop taking medicines that make it harder for your blood to clot. Talk with your provider 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 biopsy needle passes into your 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 your provider can feel or seen on an ultrasound are noncancerous or cancerous.

Normal Results

A normal result shows 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. With severe bleeding, there may be pressure on the windpipe (trachea). This problem is rare.

Alternative Names

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

References

Lai SY, Mandel SJ, Weber RS. Management of thyroid neoplasms. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 123.

Schlumberger MJ, Filetti S, Alexander EA, Hay ID. Nontoxic diffuse and nodular goiter and thyroid neoplasia. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 14.

Update Date 2/27/2016

Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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