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Needle biopsy of the thyroid

You have this test to find out if the lump in your thyroid needs further treatment.

Preparing for your test

You are able to eat and drink normally before a biopsy. Take your medicines as normal. But if you are taking any blood thinning medicines you might need to stop them before the test. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to stop.

You will need to remove any clothing around your neck such as a tie or scarf. You will also be asked to remove any jewellery such as a necklace or chain.

You will lie on your back on a couch. Your chin will be lifted a little to keep your neck clear.

What happens?

Your doctor will feel for your thyroid lump, so that they can put the needle into the right place. They usually use an ultrasound scanner to help guide the needle in.

You may have an injection of local anaesthetic to numb the area first. The needle to take the biopsy is very thin so an anaesthetic might not be used. Talk to your doctor before the test if you are worried about not having local anaesthetic.

Once the needle is in place, your doctor uses a syringe to suck out a small amount of fluid and cells. They send this sample to the laboratory for a specialist doctor (pathologist) to look at.

After your needle biopsy

You can get dressed and go about doing your normal activities straight afterwards. Avoid doing anything too strenuous for the rest of the day.

You will have a small dressing where the needle was.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how to look after this area and the dressing. Ask if you can bath and shower as normal. You might see some bruising at the site. This is normal, it will go after a week or two. Paracetamol can help if you’re sore or tender.

Possible risks

A needle biopsy is a very safe procedure, but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards.

Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a needle biopsy outweigh these possible risks.

Bleeding

It’s rare to have any bleeding after your needle biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will give you advice on what to do if you have bleeding.

Swelling

Some people have some mild swelling after the test. This is uncommon but it may happen if the needle biopsy was difficult to do. Let your doctor know if the area is swollen or very painful.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. 

Waiting for results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can contact for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

If you need another biopsy

Occasionally the first needle biopsy sample does not contain enough cells to make a diagnosis and you may need to have the test again.

Sometimes a surgical biopsy is needed. You have a sample of tissue removed during a small operation, usually under a general anaesthetic. This could be because:

  • the needle biopsy could not be done for some reason
  • a second needle biopsy did not get enough cells to make a diagnosis but your specialist still thinks that there is a problem
  • it was difficult for the pathologist to be sure about the results of your needle biopsy (it can be particularly difficult to accurately judge thyroid cells)

You may have 1 or 2 stitches, or steri strips, to close the wound in your neck.