The role of cytology in the diagnosis of subcentimeter thyroid lesions

Vincenzo Fiorentino, Marco Dell’ Aquila, Teresa Musarra, Maurizio Martini, Sara Capodimonti, Guido Fadda, Mariangela Curatolo, Emanuela Traini, Marco Raffaelli, Celestino Pio Lombardi, Alfredo Pontecorvi, Luigi Maria Larocca, Liron Pantanowitz, Esther Diana Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thyroid nodules are common and typically detected by palpation and/or ultrasound (US). Guidelines have defined the management of large nodules, but controversy exists regarding nodules ≤ 1 cm. We evaluated a cohort of patients with subcentimeter nodules to determine their rate of malignancy (ROM). A total of 475 thyroid FNAs of lesions ≤ 1 cm with available follow-up were identified from January 2015–December 2019. For comparative analysis, we added a control series of 606 thyroid lesions larger than 1 cm from the same reference period. All aspirates were processed with liquid-based cytology and classified according to The Bethesda System for Reporting Thyroid Cytopathology (TBSRTC). Subcentimeter nodules were stratified as 35 category I—non-diagnostic cases (ND; 7.3%), 144 category II—benign lesions (BL; 30.3%), 12 category III—atypia of undetermined significance/follicular lesion of undetermined significance (AUS/FLUS; 2.5%), 12 category IV—follicular neoplasm/suspicious for follicular neoplasm (FN/SFN; 2.5%), 124 category V—suspicious for malignancy (SM; 26.1%), and 148 category VI—positive for malignancy (PM; 31.1%). A total of 307 cases (64.6%) underwent subsequent surgery. Only one ND and three BLs had a malignant outcome. ROM for indeterminate lesions (III + IV) was 3.2%; with 1.6% for category III and 3.2% for category IV. ROM for the malignant categories (V + VI) was 88.2%. The control cohort of lesions demonstrated a higher number of benign histological diagnoses (67.3%). We documented that 57.2% of suspected subcentimeter lesions were malignant, with a minor proportion that belonged in indeterminate categories. There were very few ND samples, suggesting that aspirates of subcentimeter lesions yield satisfactory results. Suspected US features in subcentimeter lesions should be evaluated and followed by an interdisciplinary team for appropriate patient management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1043
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Bethesda thyroid classification system
  • Cancer
  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Personalized medicine
  • Subcentimeter nodules
  • Thyroid nodules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry


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