One in four patients with follicular thyroid cytology (THY3) has a thyroid carcinoma

Thyroid. 2009 Jan;19(1):33-7. doi: 10.1089/thy.2008.0200.


Background: Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy is the cornerstone of assessment of thyroid nodules. Cytological criteria for benign (THY2) and malignant (THY5) aspirates are well established and reliable. When cytology suggests a follicular neoplasm (THY3), only formal histological assessment can differentiate between benign and malignant lesions. The objective of this study was to determine the factors predictive of malignancy in thyroid nodules when cytological assessment is restricted to euthyroid patients living in an area without endemic goiter who undergo routine diagnostic lobectomy once the FNA raises the suspicion of a follicular neoplasm.

Method: Retrospective review of histological and clinical data in a cohort of patients with a palpable thyroid nodule and THY3 cytology.

Results: Between January 2000 and December 2007, 1981 patients (346 males and 1635 females) underwent 2809 thyroid FNAs. There were 201 THY3 reports (9%). Histology demonstrated thyroid carcinomas in 57 patients (31 follicular carcinomas, 11 Hurthle cell carcinomas, 11 papillary carcinomas, 1 medullary thyroid carcinoma, 1 poorly differentiated thyroid cancer, 1 lymphoma, and 1 metastatic renal carcinoma). Benign tumors were found in 144 patients with follicular adenomas (n = 76), Hurthle cell adenomas (n = 33), multinodular goiter (n = 13), adenomatoid nodules (n = 15), colloid nodules (n = 4), and thyroiditis (n = 3). THY3 cytology was more predictive of malignancy in men (13/34 male symbol vs. 44/167 female symbol, p < 0.001, chi(2) test). The risk for malignancy was 1:4 for the entire group and 1:3 for patients under 30 years and over 60 years. About 17/46 nodules over 40 mm in diameter were carcinomas, compared with only 35/140 in nodules under 40 mm (p < 0.01, chi2 test).

Conclusion: One in four patients with cytological features of a follicular neoplasm has a thyroid carcinoma. A large nodule (>4 cm) with THY3 cytology has a high likelihood of being a cancer, and arguably such patients could be offered total thyroidectomy rather than diagnostic lobectomy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Papillary, Follicular / surgery
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroid Nodule / diagnosis*
  • Thyroid Nodule / pathology*
  • Thyroidectomy
  • Young Adult