Accuracy of fine-needle aspiration of thyroid

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2001 Apr;125(4):484-8. doi: 10.1043/0003-9985(2001)125<0484:AOFNAO>2.0.CO;2.


Context: Fine-needle aspiration has become an accepted and cost-effective procedure for rapid diagnosis of thyroid lesions. The routine use of fine-needle aspiration has reduced the rate of unnecessary surgery for thyroid nodules.

Objectives: To determine the accuracy of fine-needle aspiration biopsy diagnosis and to discuss the possible pitfalls. Design, Setting, and Participants.-Reports of 6226 fine-needle aspiration biopsies of the thyroid performed during a period of 16 years (1982-1998) were reviewed. Computerized reports of the fine-needle aspiration biopsies were sent to the physicians who performed the procedures, and clinical follow-up information regarding the patients was requested. Twenty-four clinicians participated in the study. Histologic diagnoses were available for 354 cases. The cytopathologic diagnoses were correlated with the histologic findings or clinical outcomes.

Results: The cytologic diagnoses were as follows: 210 (3.4%) malignant, 450 (7.2%) suspicious, 3731 (60%) benign, and 1845 (29.5%) unsatisfactory. Most of the cases with negative or unsatisfactory aspirates were followed clinically or by repeat fine-needle aspiration. We identified 11 false-negative and 7 false-positive diagnoses. For aspirates considered sufficient for diagnosis, the sensitivity and specificity levels were 93% and 96%, respectively.

Conclusions: Fine-needle aspiration of the thyroid gland is highly accurate and has a low rate of false-negative and false-positive diagnoses. The major diagnostic problems are caused by diagnosis using a marginally adequate specimen, diagnosis of malignancy based on just 1 or 2 atypical cytologic features, or overlapping cytologic features of follicular neoplasm with those of follicular variant of papillary carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Thyroid Nodule / diagnosis*