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01.04.2015 | Review | Ausgabe 2/2015 Open Access

Insights into Imaging 2/2015

Thyroid nodule ultrasound: technical advances and future horizons

Insights into Imaging > Ausgabe 2/2015
Andrew S. McQueen, Kunwar S. S. Bhatia
Wichtige Hinweise
Andrew S. McQueen and Kunwar S.S. Bhatia contributed equally to this work.


Thyroid nodules are extremely common and the vast majority are non-malignant; therefore the accurate discrimination of a benign lesion from malignancy is challenging. Ultrasound (US) characterisation has become the key component of many thyroid nodule guidelines and is primarily based on the detection of key features by high-resolution US. The thyroid imager should be familiar with the strengths and limitations of this modality and understand the technical factors that create and alter the imaging characteristics. Specific advances in high-resolution US are discussed with reference to individual features of thyroid cancer and benign disease. Potential roles for three-dimensional thyroid ultrasound and computer-aided diagnosis are also considered. The second section provides an overview of current evidence regarding thyroid ultrasound elastography (USE). USE is a novel imaging technique that quantifies tissue elasticity (stiffness) non-invasively and has potential utility because cancers cause tissue stiffening. In recent years, there has been much research into the value of thyroid USE for distinguishing benign and malignant nodules. Preliminary findings from multiple pilot studies and meta-analyses are promising and suggest that USE can augment the anatomical detail provided by high-resolution US. However, a definite role remains controversial and is discussed.

Teaching points

• High-resolution US characterises thyroid nodules by demonstration of specific anatomical features
• Technical advances heavily influence the key US features of thyroid nodules
• Most papillary carcinomas appear stiffer than benign thyroid nodules on US elastography (USE)
• Thyroid USE is controversial because of variation in the reported accuracies for malignancy
• Combined grey-scale US/USE may lower the FNAC rate in benign nodules
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