If you’ve undergone a thyroid biopsy, you’re likely eager to receive the results and gain insight into what’s causing thyroid nodules or other abnormalities. But how long should you expect to wait before getting those biopsy results?
Generally, the timeline runs approximately 2 to 3 weeks from the date of the biopsy procedure to getting the results from your doctor. But, multiple factors can influence this timeframe in either direction.
Why a Thyroid Biopsy is Performed
First, let’s briefly go over why a thyroid biopsy is ordered in the first place. Your doctor may recommend this test if an ultrasound or physical exam reveals nodules or growths on your thyroid gland.
Situated at the base of your neck, your thyroid produces hormones that regulate metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and other vital functions. A biopsy helps determine whether any abnormalities in the gland are benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
While most nodules are harmless, around 5-10% harbor cancer. Your doctor uses a needle to extract cells and tissue from the area for analysis. Testing can either alleviate concerns or prompt appropriate treatment if cancerous cells are found.
What to Expect During the Biopsy
Thyroid biopsies are typically performed under local anesthesia in an outpatient setting. The procedure only takes about 30 minutes. Your doctor uses ultrasound imaging to guide the needle into the right location for sampling. Most patients report only mild discomfort.
You’ll likely have a bandage or ice pack applied after to minimize bruising. Serious complications are very rare when biopsies are conducted by an experienced practitioner. You shouldn’t have any restrictions after and can resume normal activities right away but avoid strenuous exercise.
How Long Do You Have to Wait for Thyroid Biopsy Results?
Now let’s get into the timeline you can expect as you await your results.
The collected sample gets sent to a laboratory for analysis by a specialist called a cytopathologist. They examine the cells under a microscope for any abnormalities that could signal cancer or other thyroid conditions.
- The biopsy itself only takes 30 minutes or less to complete.
- On average, it takes about 5 to 7 days for the lab to process the sample and prepare a report.
- After the lab completes the analysis, your doctor will need time to review the findings and formulate a treatment plan if necessary. This typically takes another 1 to 2 weeks.
So all in all, the typical wait time spans 2 to 3 weeks from your biopsy date to getting the results. However, you may hear back in as little as a few days or as long as 4 to 6 weeks depending on several variables.
Why Delays Sometimes Occur
While waiting is unpleasant, a few scenarios warrant a slightly longer timeline to ensure an accurate diagnosis:
- If the initial sample was too small or the quality made it difficult to analyze, a second biopsy may be performed to gather more cells.
- Rare thyroid conditions could require specialized staining and preparation.
- If the first results are inconclusive, your doctor may send the sample to multiple pathologists for their input.
- Additional blood work or imaging tests may be ordered to complement the tissue analysis.
- Seeking a second opinion, whether your own initiative or your doctor’s advice, generally takes 1 to 2 weeks.
So in select cases, it’s in your best interest to wait a bit longer rather than rush inconclusive results. However, if you have any concerns about unexpected delays, don’t hesitate to check with your healthcare provider.
How You’ll Receive the Results
Once the pathology report is finalized, your doctor will discuss the findings and what they mean at a follow-up appointment. They may schedule this visit once the sample is sent for analysis so you have it on the books.
If you don’t hear anything within the expected timeframe, don’t hesitate to call the doctor’s office for an update. They may be awaiting additional input before finalizing the results.
What Different Results Mean
Receiving thyroid biopsy results can be stressful, especially during the waiting period. It helps to know what the range of possible outcomes means:
- Benign: This is the most common and favorable result. If no cancerous cells are found, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Your nodules likely resulted from thyroid inflammation or adenomas (non-cancerous growths). Follow-up in 6 months to a year is typically recommended.
- Malignant: About 5% of biopsies detect thyroid cancer. Your doctor will discuss treatment such as surgery, radiation therapy, or thyroid hormone medication. The prognosis is often excellent when caught early before spreading far beyond the thyroid.
- Inconclusive: 10-15% of biopsies come back as “indeterminate”, meaning the cells couldn’t be definitively classified as benign or malignant. Your doctor will likely recommend additional testing or a repeat biopsy to be certain.
- Non-diagnostic: This result means the sample wasn’t sufficient for analysis. A second biopsy is recommended to obtain more cells and hopefully produce a conclusive finding.
Understanding what conclusions you might receive reduces some uncertainty around the waiting period. Make sure to communicate any questions or concerns you have to your doctor as well.
Seeking a Second Opinion
Due to a grey area with some biopsies labeled indeterminate or suspicious, you may wish to seek a second pathology opinion. This involves having another certified pathologist re-examine the cells.
Getting a second set of eyes can provide more clarity, especially if your initial results suggest borderline malignancy. A second opinion may:
- Confirm an inconclusive or suspicious finding is indeed cancerous.
- Rule out cancer by classifying it as benign.
- Suggest additional testing to investigate further.
Consult with your doctor first about whether they recommend a second opinion based on your specific results and risk factors. Most insurers will cover a second pathology review. This could give you added peace of mind about the accuracy of the diagnosis.
Steps After Receiving Biopsy Results
Once you have your definitive biopsy results, your doctor will outline the appropriate next steps:
- Benign result: Likely continued monitoring with potential repeat biopsies if growth recurs.
- Malignant result: Discuss treatment options such as thyroid surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, etc.
- Inconclusive result: Consider repeat biopsy, molecular testing of the sample, or diagnostic thyroid surgery to reach a diagnosis.
- Non-diagnostic result: Schedule a repeat biopsy to obtain a useful sample.
Follow your doctor’s recommended management plan based on your particular biopsy findings and clinical picture. Prompt treatment if cancer is detected leads to an excellent prognosis. But avoid rushing into aggressive treatments prematurely if initial results are unclear.
Waiting for thyroid biopsy results can be an anxious time, but most patients receive their results back within 1-2 weeks. Communicate any concerns about a delay to your doctor so they can expedite the process if needed. If your results indicate cancer, rest assured that thyroid cancer is very treatable, especially when caught early. Following your doctor’s advice for further testing or treatment is crucial after receiving your results.