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Thyroid. 2009 May;19(5):531-3. doi: 10.1089/thy.2009.0049.

Identification of a neck lump as a lymph node metastasis from an occult contralateral papillary microcarcinoma of the thyroid: key role of thyroglobulin assay in the fine-needle aspirate.

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  • 1Tinchi-Pisticci Hospital, Matera, Italy.



Thyroglobulin (Tg) assay of material from fine-needle aspiration of neck masses can help distinguish neck masses of thyroid origin from other masses. We describe its utility in a patient with an unusual constellation of findings, a neck lump identified as a lymph node metastasis from a contralateral occult papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC).


A 56-year-old woman was referred to our center for evaluation of a 15-mm right lateral cervical neck mass which was strongly hypoechoic, not homogenous and contained several microcalcifications. There was no family history of thyroid disease, the patient was euthyroid and was not taking medications for thyroid disorders. On physical examination the thyroid was slightly enlarged and was normal on ultrasound except for a 1 x 3 mm hypoechoic nodule in the middle of the left lobe. Ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) of the right lateral cervical mass was performed with the Tg concentration of the FNAB washout liquid being >300 ng/mL and the cytology showing lymphoid elements mixed with polymorphous epithelial cells with atypical nuclei, suggesting lymph node metastasis from a cancer of epithelial origin. A lymph node metastasis from a papillary thyroid microcarcinoma (micro-PTC) was the presumptive diagnosis with the preoperative staging being Tx N1b. The patient underwent total thyroidectomy and bilateral lymph node dissection. At pathology, the right cervical mass was confirmed as lymph node metastasis of a PTC, and a unifocal micro-PTC was found in the middle left lobe. The patient was readmitted for a therapeutic (131)I dose (4810 MBq). At the time of (131)I administration, the whole-body scan showed only minimal thyroid bed uptake and serum Tg was <1 ng/mL. She was maintained on l-thyroxine treatment (150 microg/d). Five year later she did not have evidence of recurrent or residual PTC.


We describe the first case of contralateral lymph node metastasis from a unifocal micro-PTC identified by the detection of high Tg levels in the wash-out liquid of FNAB.

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