Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths of thyroid tissue. The incident of thyroid nodules increases with age and is often more frequent in women and the elderly. More than 95 % of thyroid nodules are non-cancerous. Depending on a variety of factors, a biopsy or Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) procedure is used to determine if the nodule is cancerous or not. Fine needle aspiration of the thyroid gland is a procedure that uses a very thin needle to remove thyroid cells for examination. The procedure takes under 30 minutes and can be performed in the physician office.
Our trained endocrinology team can assist with managing thyroid nodules and if needed perform ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration in our practice.
What is a Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration(FNA) Biopsy?
A thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy is a procedure that removes a small sample of tissue from your thyroid gland. Cells are removed through a small, hollow needle. The sample is sent to the lab for analysis.
The thyroid gland is in the front of your neck. It is butterfly shaped, with two lobes connected by a narrow band of tissue. It is an endocrine gland that makes thyroid hormone. This hormone has many functions in your body.
In some cases, hard nodules form inside the gland. You might notice a small bump in your gland area. Most times, the nodules are not dangerous. But in some cases they can be thyroid cancer. A thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy can take a sample from the nodule to test for cancer.
Benefits and Risks of Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy
- The results of needle biopsy of the thyroid are close to 95% accurate for adequate biopsies
- Needle biopsy is a reliable method of obtaining tissue samples that can help diagnose whether a nodule is cancerous or non-cancerous
- A needle biopsy is less invasive than open and closed surgical biopsies, both of which involve a larger incision in the skin and local or general anesthesia
- Generally, the procedure is not painful and the results are as accurate as when a tissue sample is removed surgically
- Recovery time is brief and patients can soon resume their usual activities
Thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy is a very safe procedure, but it does carry some slight risks. These include:
- Bleeding at the biopsy site
- Damage to the structures near the thyroid
How To Prepare for a Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy
There is very little you need to do to prepare for a thyroid fine needle aspiration biopsy. Ask your healthcare provider whether you should stop taking any medications before the procedure, like blood thinners. You should be able to eat and drink normally before the procedure. You will probably go to a medical clinic to have the procedure performed. You should be able to go home that same day.
Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy Procedure
Your healthcare provider performs the biopsy with the help of an ultrasound machine. This machine uses high-frequency sound waves to provide an ongoing image of the nodule. This enables your healthcare provider to guide the needle to exactly the right spot, and it prevents damage to other structures. A gel-like substance will be applied to your neck, where the ultrasound detector will be used.
After cleaning the area, your provider will insert the thin, fine needle into your thyroid gland. This may hurt a little. He or she will slowly advance the needle into the nodule itself, moving it back and forth several times.
The needle attaches to a syringe that can apply suction and remove some cells from the nodule. After the removal of the needle, these cells will be placed on a slide. Your provider might repeat this procedure a few times to obtain different samples.
After the procedure, the cells will be sent to a pathology lab, where they will be analyzed for signs of cancer. A small bandage will be placed over the needle insertion site.
After a Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy
Most people will be able to resume their normal activities right away. You can remove your bandage within a few hours.
The site of the biopsy might be sore for a day or two after the procedure. You can take over-the-counter pain medications if you need to. Follow any other specific instructions that your healthcare provider gives you.
It may take several days to get your test results from the pathology lab. Ask your healthcare provider when you can expect to get your results back.
If your thyroid nodule is not cancer, you might not need any further treatment. Your provider may want to monitor your nodule, though, and you might need another biopsy in the future.
You will probably need surgical treatment if your nodule appears cancerous. Luckily, most thyroid cancers are curable.
Sometimes, the pathologist cannot determine for sure whether your nodule is cancer. In this case, your healthcare provider might recommend a repeat biopsy or surgery. Whatever your test results, you can work with your healthcare provider to develop the best possible treatment plan for you.