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J Endocrinol Invest. 2013 Oct;36(9):722-8. doi: 10.3275/8931. Epub 2013 Apr 12.

Very high prevalence of ultrasound thyroid scan abnormalities in healthy volunteers in Modena, Italy.

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  • 1Unit and Chair of Endocrinology & Metabolism, Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy.



Italy is characterized by high prevalence of goiter. To date, only limited data about the prevalence of goiter in the Italian adult population are available.


To investigate the prevalence of thyroid ultrasound abnormalities in adults unaware of any thyroid disease and evaluate the rate of differentiated thyroid cancer (DTC) obtained by this intervention.


Ultrasound (US) thyroid scan was performed in adult volunteers recruited by advertisement in Modena, Italy. One hundred and thirty-five women and 66 men (no.= 201), unaware of any thyroid disease (mean age of 46 ± 10.7 yr) underwent their first thyroid US scan.


US thyroid abnormalities were found in 101 subjects (50.3%): 91 nodular goiters (45.2%) and 13 US-thyroiditis (6.5%) associated with positive auto-antibodies in 11 of them. Seventeen subjects (18%) with nodules underwent US-fine needle aspiration biopsy with the following cytological class (C) outcome: 14 patients C2 (82%), 1 patient C3 (6%), 2 patients had C4 (12%), the latter received histological confirmation.


The prevalence of thyroid abnormalities is very high in subjects unaware of any thyroid disease. DTC was found in 1% of subjects and in 2% of those affected by nodular goiter. Compared to the detection rate of the well-established screening programs for breast (0.45%) and colorectal (0.27%) cancer, the prevalence of DTC seems to be much higher. Thyroid US screening could allow the detection of DTC in asymptomatic subjects and this diagnosis often includes DTC at an advanced stage. Thus, US screening not necessarily results in the over-diagnosis of clinically not relevant thyroid diseases.

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