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Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy

People with thyroid disease and other hormone-related health issues often need tests as part of their treatment.

One standard test is a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. Your doctor may order an FNA biopsy if they feel a lump in your thyroid.

Thyroid nodules are common. They're present in about half of all people by age 60, according to the American Thyroid Association.

Some nodules will need a biopsy to determine whether it's cancer.

At UPMC, our endocrine experts provide total, tailored care to the people we treat.

What Is a Thyroid Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy?

A thyroid FNA biopsy takes a small sample from the thyroid gland in the front of the neck.

The thyroid gland makes hormones that manage how your body uses food to produce energy.

An FNA biopsy helps doctors learn if a lump in the thyroid is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

What Are the Benefits of Thyroid FNA Biopsy?

Thyroid FNA biopsy offers several benefits.

A precise diagnosis

FNA biopsy gives a precise diagnosis using a tissue sample from the thyroid nodule.

It helps doctors know if the lump is cancer. This lets them choose the proper treatment.

A minimally invasive procedure

FNA biopsy is simple, safe, and less invasive than open biopsies.

Your doctor can do it in their office and don't need to use general anesthesia.

Better care decisions

FNA biopsy results are vital for making the right treatment choices.

If the nodule is not cancer, it may only require regular surveillance.

A cancerous nodule may need aggressive treatment.

The results of the biopsy can tell the doctors what treatments are best. These include surgery, radiation, and medicines.

What Are the Complications of Thyroid FNA Biopsy?

Although rare, complications of FNA may include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Bruising where the needle went in.
  • Pain after the procedure.
  • Infection.

What To Expect Before, During, and After a Thyroid FNA Biopsy

Preparing for your FNA

Before your FNA biopsy, discuss your health history with your doctor.

Make sure to tell them about any:

  • Allergies you have, especially to medicines.
  • Medicines that you take daily. You don't need to stop taking any medications before your thyroid biopsy.

What to expect during an FNA biopsy

The needles are thinner than the ones used for most blood draws. You may feel some pressure on your neck during the FNA biopsy, but discomfort is typically minimal.

Most people easily tolerate the process without numbing. But if your neck is sensitive or you're worried about pain, numbing medicine is readily available if you need it.

During the FNA biopsy, the doctor will:

  • Have you lie on your back and place a pillow under your shoulders to extend your neck.
  • Clean the site of the biopsy with an antiseptic solution.
  • Insert a thin, hollow needle into the nodule. They'll use an ultrasound machine to make sure the needle is on target.
  • Take a sample of cells from the nodule with the needle. This takes up to 30 seconds.
  • Apply pressure to the biopsy site after getting the sample.

FNA of a single nodule may take between 10 to 20 minutes. The needles are so thin that bleeding is minor.

The biopsy site may feel sore for one to two days.

An onsite cell expert and your doctor prep the sample before you leave, making sure there's enough tissue to test.

If your FNA biopsy detects an obvious cancer, you're often able to see the surgeon that same day. Same-day diagnostic and screening services speed up the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid cancer and other thyroid diseases.

After your thyroid FNA biopsy

After your FNA biopsy, your doctor will give you details about:

  • Going about your day when you feel up to it.
  • Taking pain medicine (acetaminophen) if needed.

Make a Thyroid Appointment at UPMC

Our experts can diagnose and treat your thyroid problem.

Find a UPMC endocrinology location near you to make an appointment or learn more.