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Thyroid. 2014 May;24(5):832-9. doi: 10.1089/thy.2013.0317. Epub 2014 Mar 10.

Malignancy rate in thyroid nodules classified as Bethesda category III (AUS/FLUS).

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  • 11 Head and Neck Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center , New York, New York.



The Bethesda System for Reporting Thyroid Cytopathology is the standard for interpreting fine needle aspiration (FNA) specimens. The "atypia of undetermined significance/follicular lesion of undetermined significance" (AUS/FLUS) category, known as Bethesda Category III, has been ascribed a malignancy risk of 5-15%, but the probability of malignancy in AUS/FLUS specimens remains unclear. Our objective was to determine the risk of malignancy in thyroid FNAs categorized as AUS/FLUS at a comprehensive cancer center.


The management of 541 AUS/FLUS thyroid nodule patients treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center between 2008 and 2011 was analyzed. Clinical and radiologic features were examined as predictors for surgery. Target AUS/FLUS nodules were correlated with surgical pathology.


Of patients with an FNA initially categorized as AUS/FLUS, 64.7% (350/541) underwent immediate surgery, 17.7% (96/541) had repeat FNA, and 17.6% (95/541) were observed. Repeat FNA cytology was unsatisfactory in 5.2% (5/96), benign in 42.7% (41/96), AUS/FLUS in 38.5% (37/96), suspicious for follicular neoplasm in 5.2% (5/96), suspicious for malignancy in 4.2% (4/96), and malignant in 4.2% (4/96). Of nodules with two consecutive AUS/FLUS diagnoses that were resected, 26.3% (5/19) were malignant. Among all index AUS/FLUS nodules (triaged to surgery, repeat FNA, or observation), malignancy was confirmed on surgical pathology in 26.6% [CI 22.4-31.3]. Among AUS/FLUS nodules triaged to surgery, the malignancy rate was 37.8% [CI 33.1-42.8]. Incidental cancers were found in 22.3% of patients. On univariate logistic regression analysis, factors associated with triage to surgery were younger patient age (p<0.0001), increasing nodule size (p<0.0001), and nodule hypervascularity (p=0.032).


In patients presenting to a comprehensive cancer center, malignancy rates in nodules with AUS/FLUS cytology are higher than previously estimated, with 26.6-37.8% of AUS/FLUS nodules harboring cancer. These data imply that Bethesda Category III nodules in some practice settings may have a higher risk of malignancy than traditionally believed, and that guidelines recommending repeat FNA or observation merit reconsideration.

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