Objective: The aim of this study was to validate the American Thyroid Association (ATA) sonographic risk assessment of thyroid nodules.
Methods: The ATA sonographic risk assessment was prospectively applied to 206 thyroid nodules selected for ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration (US-FNA), and analyzed with The Bethesda System for Reporting Thyroid Cytopathology (TBSRTC), as well as surgical pathology for the subset undergoing surgical excision.
Results: The analysis included 206 thyroid nodules averaging 2.4 cm (range 1-7 cm; standard error of the mean 0.07). Using the ATA US pattern risk assessment, nodules were classified as high (4%), intermediate (31%), low (38%), and very low (26%) risk of malignancy. Nodule size was inversely correlated with sonographic risk assessment, as lower risk nodules were larger on average (p < 0.0001). Malignancy rates determined by cytology/surgical pathology were high 100%, intermediate 11%, low 8%, and very low 2%, which were closely aligned with ATA malignancy risk estimates (high 70-90%, intermediate 10-20%, low 5-10%, and very low 3%). ATA US pattern risk assessment also appropriately predicted the proportion of nodules classified as malignant or suspicious for malignancy through TBSRTC classification-high (77%), intermediate (6%), low (1%), and very low 0%-as well as benign TBSRTC classification-high (0%), intermediate (47%), low (61%), and very low (70%) (p < 0.0001). Malignancy rates of surgically excised, cytologically indeterminate nodules followed ATA sonographic risk stratification (high 100%, intermediate 21%, low 17%, and very low 12%; p = 0.003).
Conclusion: This prospective study supports the new ATA sonographic pattern risk assessment for selection of thyroid nodules for US-FNA based upon TBSRTC and surgical pathology results. In the setting of indeterminate cytopathology, nodules categorized as atypia of undetermined significance/follicular lesion of undetermined significance with ATA high-risk sonographic patterns have a high likelihood of being malignant.
Keywords: ATA guidelines; thyroid cancer; thyroid nodules; thyroid ultrasound; ultrasound.