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Needle Biopsy: Thyroid

(Fine-Needle Aspiration: Thyroid; Skinny-Needle Biopsy: Thyroid; Coarse-Needle Biopsy: Thyroid; Core Needle Biopsy: Thyroid)
  • Definition

    A needle biopsy uses a needle to removal of a small piece of tissue or fluid for testing. In this case, the tissue is removed from the thyroid gland.
  • Reasons for Procedure

    A thyroid biopsy is usually done when a lump is found in the thyroid. The lump is often called a thyroid nodule. These nodules are fairly common and usually do not need treatment. Only about 5% of nodules are cancerous .
    The needle biopsy is usually done to see if a nodule is cancer. The biopsy may also be done if there is no nodule but the thyroid is enlarged.
    Thyroid Nodule
    Nucleus image
    © 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Possible Complications

    Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
    • Bleeding
    • Bruising where the needle was inserted
    • Pain after the procedure
    • Infection
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure
    In the days leading up to your procedure, you may have a physical exam and blood tests. Your doctor will talk with you about your medical history, including any allergies you may have. Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. You may be need to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure
    You will need to arrange for a ride home from the care center.
    Local anesthesia is used. The area that is affected will be numb.
    You may also be given a sedative to help you relax
    Description of the Procedure
    There are two types of biopsies:
    • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA)—most common
    • Coarse-needle biopsy (CNB)
    You will be asked to lie on your back. A pillow will be placed under your shoulders. Your neck will be extended. The site of the biopsy will be cleaned. For an FNA, your doctor will insert a tiny hollow needle into the nodule to collect a sample of tissue. For a CNB, your doctor will make a small cut in the skin. The needle will be inserted through the incision and into the thyroid to collect a sample. The process may need to be repeated several times. After the procedure, pressure will be applied to the biopsy site. A bandage will be applied.
    In some cases, your doctor will use ultrasound to help locate the area that needs to be sampled. If ultrasound is used, the doctor will place a transducer on your neck. The transducer will send images to a screen for your doctor to view. These images will be used to locate the nodule and to guide the needle. This helps to make sure your doctor got a sample of the nodule and not the surrounding "normal" tissue.
    How Long Will It Take?
    About 10-30 minutes
    Will It Hurt?
    You may feel soreness at the biopsy site for 1-2 days. Talk to your doctor about medications that may help.
    Post-procedure Care
    When you return home after the procedure, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
    • If you had FNA, remove the bandage within a few hours. If you had CNB, remove the bandage in a few days.
    • Avoid vigorous physical activity for 24 hours.
    • Return to normal activities.
    • Take over-the-counter pain medication if you need to.
  • Call Your Doctor

    After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
    • Bleeding
    • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
    • Trouble breathing or swallowing
    • Excessive neck swelling
    • Unusual pain or discomfort
    If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

    American Thyroid Association

    Thyroid Foundation of America


    Health Canada

    Thyroid Foundation of Canada


    Ross DS. Fine needle aspiration biopsy of thyroid nodules/instructions for patients undergoing core needle biopsy. Thyroid Foundation of Canada website. Available at: Accessed August 21, 2014.

    Thyroid nodules. American Thyroid Association website. Available at: Published June 4, 2012. Accessed August 21, 2014.

    Thyroid nodule. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated August 14, 2014. Accessed August 21, 2014.

    Thyroid nodules. New York Thyroid Center website. Available at: Accessed August 21, 2014.

    Ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration biopsy of the thyroid. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed August 21, 2014.

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