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Acta Cytol. 1996 Nov-Dec;40(6):1176-83.

Fine needle aspiration of thyroid nodules. Determinants of insufficiency rate and malignancy yield at thyroidectomy.

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Department of Medicine, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. 20307-5001, USA.



To evaluate patient- and practice-specific determinants of the thyroid nodule fine needle aspiration (FNA) insufficiency rate and malignancy yield at a tertiary-care teaching hospital.


All FNAs of thyroid nodules performed from August 1990 to October 1993 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center Endocrinology Clinic were reviewed and the results analyzed for correlation with surgical outcome, scintiscanning result and operator experience. Provider-specific factors influencing the FNA insufficiency rate, surgical referral pattern and malignancy yield were evaluated.


A total of 504 aspirations in 422 patients with thyroid nodules were included in the analysis. The sensitivity of FNA for detecting malignancy was 80%, specificity was 73.2%, and accuracy was 75.2%. A significant negative correlation was found between recent aspirator experience and the insufficiency rate. Repeat aspiration of nodules previously yielding benign cytology increased the malignancy yield. Surgical excision of nodules with insufficient aspirations gave a low malignancy yield, and aspiration of nodules that were "hot" on scintiscanning rarely yielded false positive FNA results.


Specific limitations of thyroid nodule FNA include a large number of aspirates containing insufficient cytologic material and a variable malignancy yield. Specific recommendations based on the findings in this report are: the establishment of uniform criteria for judging specimen adequacy, the performance of repeat aspiration on thyroid nodules with previously benign aspirates, the abandonment of scintiscanning in the routine management of thyroid nodules and a conservative approach to clinically indolent nodules repeatedly found to have scant cellularity on FNA. Based on these findings, an algorithm for the diagnostic evaluation of a solid thyroid nodule can be constructed.

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