Affiliated: Thyroid Nodules & Thyroid Cancer
Also known as Thyroid FNA, Thyroid Biopsy, Fine-needle Aspiration
At UCLA we perform over 1,000 thyroid biopsies every year. These procedures are performed by our expert endocrinologists, endocrine surgeons, and radiologists. At the UCLA Endocrine Center and select satellite clinics, it is possible to schedule a same-day thyroid FNA during your initial visit.
Thyroid biopsy is a minimally invasive procedure and is often done in the office setting. Patients are awake for the procedure.
A thin needle is carefully inserted into the thyroid nodule. The needles we use are as small, or smaller, than the needles used to draw blood. Most of the time, we use ultrasound to locate the tip of the needle. The thyroid cells that become trapped inside the needle are analyzed under a microscope. At many of our sites, we examine the cells right away to ensure we have enough material for an accurate diagnosis. A single nodule may need several samples taken to have enough cells for examination. At UCLA, we always save an extra sample for molecular testing, if needed.
After the biopsy we place a small band-aid at the needle site.
Thyroid FNAs take about 5-10 minutes for each nodule that needs to be biopsied.
Thyroid biopsies can be performed with very little discomfort. We treat the area where the needle goes in using a numbing cream, a numbing spray, and/or a numbing injection. There may be gentle pressure during the biopsy procedure.
Afterwards, an icepack can soothe the area and reduce swelling. Patients can also use over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol) to treat pain.
Results come back in 3-5 days. Time is needed for processing and final examination by UCLA cytopathologists.
Molecular testing is only performed on thyroid nodules when a diagnosis is uncertain. Up to 30% of thyroid FNA are categorized as “indeterminate.” This means the cytopathologist cannot be certain whether the cells are benign or malignant. At UCLA, thyroid nodules categorized as indeterminate have a ~25% risk of thyroid cancer.
In the past, we used to recommend surgery for all patients with indeterminate thyroid nodules, to avoid missing a cancer diagnosis. Now, molecular testing can examine the DNA and RNA of the thyroid nodule to tell us if an indeterminate thyroid nodule is likely benign or malignant.
For more information, see our webpage on [indeterminate thyroid nodules]
Side effects include soreness and bruising at the biopsy site. There is a very small risk of bleeding, infection, and cyst formation.
No, thyroid biopsies do not cause any spread of thyroid cancer into the skin or fat where the needle goes through.
Yes, you can drive yourself home after a thyroid biopsy as long as you can comfortably turn your neck from side to side. Most patients feel well after the biopsy.
Our physicians at these locations also perform neck ultrasounds and ultrasound-guided FNA.
UCLA Endocrine Center in Westwood
Available on select dates (please call to confirm availability on the day of your appointment):