Randomized prospective evaluation of frozen-section analysis for follicular neoplasms of the thyroid

Robert Udelsman, William H. Westra, Patricia I. Donovan, Taylor A. Sohn, John L. Cameron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate the clinical utility of frozen section in patients with follicular neoplasms of the thyroid in a randomized prospective trial. Summary Background Data: The finding of a follicular neoplasm on fine-needle aspiration prompts many surgeons to perform intraoperative frozen section during thyroid lobectomy. However, the focal distribution of key diagnostic features of malignancy contributes to a high rate of noninformative frozen sections. Methods: The series comprised 68 consecutive patients with a solitary thyroid nodule in whom fine-needle aspiration showed a follicular neoplasm. Patients were excluded for bilateral or nodal disease, extrathyroidal extension, or a definitive fine-needle aspiration diagnosis. Final pathologic findings were compared with frozen sections, and cost analyses were performed. Results: Sixty-one patients met the inclusion criteria. Twenty-nine were randomized to the frozen-section group and 32 to the nonfrozen-section group. In the non-frozen-section group, one patient was excluded when gross examination of the specimen was suggestive of malignancy and a directed frozen section was diagnostic of follicular carcinoma. Frozen-section analysis rendered a definitive diagnosis of malignancy in 1 of 29 (3.4%) patients, who then underwent a one-stage total thyroidectomy. In the remaining 28 patients, frozen section showed a "follicular or Hürthle cell neoplasm." Permanent histology demonstrated well-differentiated thyroid cancer in 6 of these 28 patients (21%). Of the 31 patients in the non-frozen-section group, 3 (10%) showed well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma on permanent histology. Complications were limited to one transient unilateral vocal cord dysfunction. All but one patient had a 1-day hospital stay. There were no significant differences between the groups in surgical time or total hospital charges; however, the charge per informative frozen section was approximately $12,470. Conclusions For the vast majority of patients (96.4%) with follicular neoplasms of the thyroid, frozen section is neither informative nor cost-effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-722
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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