What Is FNA?
Fine needle aspiration (FNA), also called fine needle biopsy, is a type of biopsy that can be used to diagnose many types of lumps (masses). FNA is used to obtain microscopic cells for analysis and can be used to diagnose various problems, including infection, inflammation, and cancer.
FNA Is Used for Diagnosis In:
- Thyroid Gland
- Neck lymph nodes
- Neck cysts
- Salivary glands (i.e. parotid gland, submandibular gland)
- Any lump that can be felt
- Lumps that are found on imaging tests (such as ultrasound) even if they cant be felt
Why Is FNA Important?
A mass or lump may indicate a serious problem such as cancer*. While every lump is not cancer, many lumps do need FNA biopsy. Other factors that help your provider diagnose a lump are your symptoms such as ear pain, difficulty swallowing, weight loss; your personal history, such as age, sex, smoking and drinking habits, prior skin cancer, and your family history, such as parathyroid cancer.
* When found early, most cancers in the head and neck can be cured. Cure rates for these cancers are greatly improved if people seek medical advice as soon as possible. So play it safe. If you have a lump in your head and neck area, see your otolaryngologist right away.
What Are Some Areas That Can Be Biopsied In This Fashion?
FNA is often used to biopsy cysts or lymph nodes in the neck, thyroid nodules, or salivary glands, such as the parotid gland (the mumps gland) and the submandibular gland. In fact, most lumps that can be felt with the fingers or seen with ultrasound can be biopsied with FNA.
How Is FNA Done?
The doctor inserts a small needle into the lump, draws out a tiny amount of tissue, and then examines the tissue under the microscope to make a diagnosis. If the lump is difficult to feel, an ultrasound device can be used to help direct the needle into the lump. Local anesthesia (numbing medicine) if often not necessary because the needle used for FNA is smaller the a needle used for a blood test from the arm (venipuncture). Although not painless, the discomfort from FNA is usually minimal. FNA is generally accurate and frequently prevents the patient from having an open, surgical biopsy, which is more painful and costly.
What Are The Complications Of The FNA Procedure?
No medical procedure is without risks, but complications from FNA are uncommon. Bleeding is the most common complication, when it occurs, it is usually a small bruise. Bleeding is more common in patients who take aspirin, Advil®, or blood thinners, such as warfarin. Infection from FNA is rare. Sometimes the results of an FNA are inconclusive, in which case another FNA or a different type of biopsy procedure may needed. Because the needle is so tiny, spreading a cancer with an FNA biopsy is very rare.