Thyroid nodule fine needle aspirate

Alternative names
Biopsy - skinny-needle; Skinny-needle biopsy


The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in front of the trachea (windpipe) at the top of the neck. In fine needle aspiration, a needle is inserted into the thyroid to obtain a sample of thyroid cells.

How the test is performed

This test may be done in the health care provider’s office or in a hospital. Usually anesthesia is not necessary because the needle is fine (very thin). You will lie on your back with a pillow under your shoulders and your neck extended.

The biopsy site is cleansed. The fine needle is then inserted into the thyroid, and a sample of thyroid cells and fluid is drawn into the needle. The needle is then withdrawn.

Pressure will be applied to the biopsy site to stop any bleeding, and the site will be covered with a bandage.

How to prepare for the test

Inform the health care provider of any drug allergies you have, which medications you are taking, if you have bleeding problems, and if you are pregnant. You must sign a consent form.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experience, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
The test will feel like a quick injection. You may feel a sting as the needle is inserted.

Why the test is performed

This is a test to diagnose thyroid disease or thyroid cancer.

Normal Values

The thyroid tissue is normal in structure and the cells appear non-cancerous under a microscope.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may mean thyroid cancer, noncancerous tumors, or diffuse thyroid disease such as goiter or thyroiditis.

What the risks are

The main risk is bleeding into or around the thyroid gland. If bleeding is severe, the trachea may be compressed. This complication is rare.

Special considerations

Benign nodules should be re-evaluated periodically.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 2, 2012
by Arthur A. Poghosian, M.D.

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