Doctors may recommend a biopsy to obtain a sample from a thyroid nodule. Testing the sample in a laboratory can help indicate whether the nodule is cancerous or benign.

Though most tend to be benign, it is difficult to know this without testing. A biopsy can also help doctors determine the best course of treatment if needed.

Before a thyroid nodule biopsy, a doctor will explain the possible risks so a person can make an informed decision about having one. While a person may feel discomfort during the procedure, it is safe.

This article discusses thyroid nodule biopsies, their indications, expectations of the procedure, and recovery.

scientist looking through the microscopeShare on Pinterest
sanjeri/Getty Images

A thyroid nodule biopsy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a small tissue sample from the thyroid gland for laboratory testing. This helps doctors determine if a thyroid nodule or growth is cancerous or benign.

Generally, it is a minimally invasive procedure. Doctors can use a fine needle aspiration technique to obtain the tissue sample.

Laboratory results can assist doctors in diagnostics and clinical decision-making, especially in monitoring patients on therapy.

Learn more about thyroid nodules.

If a person has a nodule in their neck, or a doctor suspects they may have one, the doctor will likely investigate to determine whether a thyroid nodule biopsy is necessary. They typically request an ultrasound based on findings and if the person has a high risk of thyroid cancer.

Generally, a doctor will recommend a biopsy if the thyroid nodule is above 1 centimeter (cm) in diameter and an ultrasound show irregular margins with microcalcifications, which are calcium deposits. This could indicate malignancy.

Individuals with a family history of thyroid cancer or a history of rapid thyroid nodule growth may also require a biopsy.

Learn more about thyroid cancer.

Before a thyroid nodule biopsy, the doctor will explain the risks and benefits of the procedure and get the person’s consent to perform it.

There are typically no specific preparations before the procedure. However, the doctor could make specific recommendations depending on the person’s clinical status and medication history. For example, they may instruct people to stop taking blood thinner medications a few days before the procedure.

During the procedure

Doctors perform a thyroid nodule biopsy in an outpatient clinic with or without local anesthesia. The person lies on the examination bed with their neck hyperextended to reveal the thyroid gland. Healthcare professionals may tell them not to move or talk. It can take up to 30 minutes to complete the procedure.

The doctor may use an ultrasound scan to guide the process. After using a needle to obtain a sample, the doctor cleans the area and applies firm pressure using an adhesive bandage to reduce any risk of bleeding.


Straight after the procedure, the doctor may closely observe the person, usually for a few minutes.

Most individuals tolerate the procedure with little or no adverse effects. Some may experience bruising, mild pain at the biopsy site, and transient minor bleeding.

The doctor may also instruct the person on wound care to reduce the risk of infection.

Learn more about biopsy procedures.

Results may take 2 weeks or longer to be ready.

According to the American Thyroid Association, there are six possible results of a thyroid biopsy:

  • Nondiagnostic: There were insufficient cells in the sample to make an accurate diagnosis. People typically require a repeat biopsy after this result.
  • Benign: This indicates that the nodules are not cancerous. Individuals may require periodic follow-ups and ultrasound scans for monitoring purposes.
  • Malignant: The nodule is cancerous. Most cancerous thyroid nodules require surgical removal.
  • Suspicious for malignancy: The nodule is not cancerous but presents with suspicious features that necessitate further testing.
  • Suspicious for follicular neoplasm: Doctors may also call this result “indeterminate.” It means the nodule may have cancerous features, and further testing is necessary.
  • Atypia of undetermined significance or follicular lesion of undetermined significance: The nodule has suspicious features requiring further tests, such as genetic testing.

Some people may have concerns about a thyroid biopsy procedure. A doctor can provide advice and reassurance.

Common questions a doctor may be able to answer include the following:

  • What are the possible risks and complications?
  • What is the duration of the procedure?
  • What are the expectations during the recovery period?
  • Are there any specific instructions for after the procedure?
  • How long does it take for the biopsy result to be ready?
  • What are the possible outcomes of the biopsy?

Asking these and other questions can help the person make an informed decision.

A thyroid nodule biopsy is a clinical procedure to obtain a small tissue sample from the thyroid gland. It is minimally invasive and doctors typically use it for diagnostic and monitoring purposes. They then send the sample to a laboratory for a series of tests, which can help indicate whether a nodule is cancerous or benign.

Generally, doctors recommend a thyroid nodule biopsy if the thyroid nodule or swelling is larger than 1 cm in diameter and a person has suspicious ultrasound findings, such as irregular margins with microcalcifications.

Doctors typically perform a thyroid nodule biopsy in an outpatient clinic, and most individuals tolerate the procedure with minimal side effects.