Follicular Variant of Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma: Accuracy of FNA Diagnosis and Implications for Patient Management

Berrin Ustun, David Chhieng, Manju L. Prasad, Elizabeth Holt, Lynwood Hammers, Tobias Carling, Robert Udelsman, Adebowale J. Adeniran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (FVPTC) creates a continuous diagnostic dilemma among pathologists because of the paucity of nuclear changes of papillary carcinoma and overlapping features with benign and other neoplastic follicular lesions. Current guidelines for the management of thyroid nodules recommend surgery for confirmed PTC, suspicious for PTC, and follicular neoplasm cases, while further immediate diagnostic studies or treatment are not routinely required if the nodule is benign on cytology. This study is designed to determine the accuracy of cytology in the diagnosis of FVPTC, based on the Bethesda classification system, and determine the implications for patient management based on the current recommendation. Based on a retrospective review of cytologic diagnoses between January 2008 and December 2011, thyroid fine needle aspiration (FNA) cytology specimens with subsequent surgical intervention and a final diagnosis of FVPTC were selected. The cytologic diagnoses were compared with the final diagnoses, and the percentage of cases contributing to the final diagnosis of FVPTC was calculated for each diagnostic category. Triage efficiency and diagnostic accuracy were calculated. One hundred and fifty-two cases with histologic confirmation of FVPTC were identified (representing 128 patients—101 female, 27 male). All patients had undergone either lobectomy with completion thyroidectomy or total thyroidectomy. The cytologic diagnosis of “positive for malignancy” accounted for only 27 % of the final histologic diagnosis of FVPTC, while suspicious for carcinoma, follicular neoplasm, follicular lesion of undetermined significance, and benign accounted for 11, 23, 23, and 16 % of the final diagnosis of FVPTC, respectively. Only 18 % of the 55 cases tested were positive for BRAF mutation. The subtle nuclear features of FVPTC pose challenges for an accurate diagnosis. Therefore, a better approach is to triage these cases for surgical intervention and/or further evaluation of the particular nodule. Our triage efficacy for FVPTC was 84 %; however, the diagnostic accuracy of PTC was 38 %. A negative diagnosis on FNA has diagnostic and management implications for up to 16 % of cases because they may have no further immediate diagnostic studies or treatment. BRAF mutation analysis provides minimal effect on diagnostic accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-264
Number of pages8
JournalEndocrine Pathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Diagnostic accuracy
  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma
  • Triage efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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