Risk of malignancy in thyroid incidentalomas identified by fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography

Surgery. 2001 Dec;130(6):941-6. doi: 10.1067/msy.2001.118265.


Background: Thyroid tumors often exhibit increased metabolic activity, as evidenced by enhanced glucose uptake on positron emission tomography (PET) with use of (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). The incidence of new thyroid lesions found on routine FDG-PET has not been previously reported.

Methods: A retrospective review of all patients who underwent FDG-PET imaging at our institution from June 1, 1996, through March 15, 2001, identified patients with a newly diagnosed thyroid lesion. Thyroid incidentaloma was defined as a thyroid lesion seen initially on FDG-PET in a patient without a history of thyroid disease. Available follow-up data were documented.

Results: One hundred and two of 4525 FDG-PET examinations (2.3%) demonstrated thyroid incidentalomas. Eighty-seven of 102 patients had no thyroid histology because of other malignancies. Fifteen patients had thyroid biopsy: 7 (47%) with thyroid cancer, 6 (40%) with nodular hyperplasia, 1 with thyroiditis, and 1 with atypical cells of indeterminate origin. The average standardized uptake values were higher for malignant compared with benign lesions.

Conclusions: Thyroid incidentaloma identified by FDG-PET occurred with a frequency of 2.3%. Of the thyroid incidentalomas that underwent biopsy, 47% were found to be malignant. Given the risk of malignancy, patients with new thyroid lesions on PET scan should have a tissue diagnosis if it will influence outcome and management. Standardized uptake values may be helpful in predicting benign versus malignant histology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18