Detection of medullary thyroid microcarcinoma using ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration cytology

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Compared with incidental papillary thyroid microcarcinoma (microPTC), incidental medullary thyroid microcarcinoma (microMTC) is clinically more significant. The objective of the present study was to summarize our experience in detecting microMTCs.


From 1995 to 2011, there were 10 825 thyroid fine needle aspirates (FNAs) guided using high-resolution ultrasound with on-site preparation and evaluation by a cytopathologist. Of the 140 microcarcinomas detected, 132 were microPTCs and eight were microMTCs, which are the subject of the present study.


All eight cases were incidentalomas and none of the five women and three men, age 37–70 years, had a family history of MTC. One patient had two FNAs at an interval of 10 months, two had a single lymph node metastasis and one had a 0.1-cm tumour nodule near the main tumour. Four of five plasmacytoid cell microMCTs had irregular borders; two round cell and one rectangular cell tumours had smooth borders. In contrast, 17 larger MTCs diagnosed in the same period included seven plasmacytoid, four giant cell and six spindle cell types. All five plasmacytoid microMTCs were correctly diagnosed on FNA, but the round cell and rectangular cell tumours were undercalled as follicular lesions. Sampling of colloid from adjacent follicles was noted in microMTCs. Two were diagnosed on histology following recommended surgery and one was diagnosed on recommended repeat FNA.


US-guided FNA of thyroid lesions is a powerful tool in the detection of microMTCs, provided that cytopathologists are alerted to the pitfalls described in the present study.

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