Ultrasound diagnosis of thyroid nodules has greatly increased their detection rate. Their risk for malignancy is estimated between 7 and 15% in data from specialized centers which are used for guidelines recommendations. This high rate causes considerable anxiety to patients upon first diagnosis. Here, we retrospectively analyzed the malignancy rate of sonographically diagnosed nodules larger than 1 cm from a primary/secondary care center when long-term longitudinal follow-up was included.
In the study, 17,592 patients were diagnosed with a thyroid nodule larger than 1 cm, of whom 7776 were assessed by fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) and 9816 by sonography alone. 9568 patients were initially discharged due to innocent results of FNAC and/or ultrasound. In 1904 patients, definitive histology was obtained, and 6731 cases were included in the long-term follow-up (up to 23 years, median 5 years).
Malignancy was histologically confirmed in 189 patients (1.1% of all) when excluding accidentally diagnosed papillary microcarcinomas. 155 were diagnosed during the first year of management, 25 in years 2–5 of follow-up, 9 in years 6–10 and nil in 1165 patients followed beyond 10 years.
The malignancy rate of thyroid nodules from primary/secondary care was much lower than that previously reported. During follow-up for more than 5 years, their rate rapidly dropped to less than 1/1000 cases. This low malignancy rate may help to reassure patients first confronted with the diagnosis of a thyroid nodule, substantially reduce their anxiety and avoid unwarranted diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.