Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy

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What is a Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy?

Also known as Thyroid FNA, Thyroid Biopsy, Fine-needle Aspiration

Thyroid FNA Biopsy at UCLA

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.

How is a Thyroid Biopsy Performed? Are You Awake for a Thyroid Biopsy?

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. 

How Long Does a Thyroid Biopsy Take?

Thyroid FNAs take about 5-10 minutes for each nodule that needs to be biopsied.  

How Painful is a Thyroid Biopsy? Do They Numb You For a Thyroid Biopsy?

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.

When Will I Receive My Results?

Results come back in 3-5 days. Time is needed for processing and final examination by UCLA cytopathologists.

Will My Thyroid Nodule Need Molecular Testing?

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]

What are the Side Effects of a Thyroid Biopsy?

Side effects include soreness and bruising at the biopsy site. There is a very small risk of bleeding, infection, and cyst formation.

Does a Thyroid Biopsy Spread the Thyroid Cancer?

No, thyroid biopsies do not cause any spread of thyroid cancer into the skin or fat where the needle goes through.

Can You Drive After a Thyroid Biopsy?

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.

UCLA Locations with Same-Day Thyroid FNA

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):

Encino: 818-461-8148    Torrance: 310-542-6333    Westlake: 805-494-6920

Endocrine Specialists: