The identification of metastatic neck lymph nodes in patients awaiting surgery for differentiated thyroid tumor permits their excision during thyroidectomy. In order to detect thyroid cancer lymphatic metastasis before surgery, we measured thyroglobulin (Tg) in the needle wash-out of fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB). Ultrasound-guided FNAB on enlarged neck nodes was performed in 23 patients awaiting surgery for differentiated thyroid tumor (n = 33 lymph nodes), 47 patients previously thyroidectomized for thyroid tumor (n = 89 lymph nodes), and 60 patients without thyroid disease (n = 94 lymph nodes). Immediately after aspiration biopsy, the needle was rinsed with 1 mL of normal saline solution and Tg levels were measured on the needle wash-out (FNAB-Tg). FNAB-Tg levels were markedly elevated in metastatic lymph nodes both in patients awaiting thyroidectomy (metastatic vs. negative lymph nodes, mean +/- SEM, 16,593 +/- 7,050 ng/mL vs. 4.91 +/- 1.61 ng/mL; p < 0.001) and in thyroidectomized patients (11,541 +/- 7,283 ng/mL vs. 0.45 +/- 0.07 ng/mL; p < 0.001). FNAB-Tg sensitivity, evaluated through histological examination in 69 lymph nodes, was 84.0%. The combination of cytology plus FNAB-Tg increased FNAB sensitivity from 76% to 92.0%. In conclusion, FNAB-Tg measurement is a useful technique for early diagnosis of lymph node metastasis originating from differentiated thyroid cancer.