Fine needle aspiration cytology of thyroid nodules: how accurate is it and what are the causes of discrepant cases?

Cytopathology. 2001 Dec;12(6):399-405. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2303.2001.00363.x.


Fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) is widely accepted as the most accurate, sensitive, specific and cost-effective diagnostic procedure in the assessment of thyroid nodules and helps to select people preoperatively for surgery. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the results of thyroid FNAC in our institution and to determine the reasons for discrepancies between the cytological and histological diagnosis. We evaluated the cytological and histological results of 254 FNACs obtained from 231 patients who underwent subsequent thyroid surgery. All of the material was blindly reviewed for quality control, by one experienced cytopathologist. All FNACs were carried out under ultrasound guidance. The cytological diagnosis was classified as benign, suspicious, malignant or unsatisfactory. The definitive histological study showed benign lesions in 195 of the 231 patients (84%). A benign diagnosis based on FNAC was correct in 105 of the 108 benign cases (97%). FNACs diagnosed as 'suspicious' resulted in a distribution of 49 benign (79%) and 13 malignant (21%) diagnoses. FNAC showed malignancy in 34 cases (13%) and in only one case did the final histology differ from cytology (correlation 97%). The percentage of FNACs that were inadequate for diagnosis was 20%. Review of cytological and histological slides did not lead to any change in the original diagnosis. Our study revealed a cytological-histological discrepancy (2%) in only 4 out of 231 cases over a period of 10 years, due to either a diagnostic or sampling error.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Carcinoma / surgery
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroid Nodule / pathology*
  • Thyroid Nodule / surgery