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Cost-effectiveness comparison between palpation- and ultrasound-guided thyroid fine-needle aspiration biopsies.

BACKGROUND: The aim of this study is to perform a cost-effectiveness comparison between palpation-guided thyroid fine-needle aspiration biopsies (P-FNA) and ultrasound-guided thyroid FNA biopsies (USG-FNA).

METHODS: Each nodule was considered as a case. Diagnostic steps were history and physical examination, TSH measurement, Tc99m thyroid scintigraphy for nodules with a low TSH level, initial P-FNA versus initial USG-FNA, repeat USG-FNA for nodules with initial inadequate P-FNA or USG-FNA, hemithyroidectomy for inadequate repeat USG-FNA. American Thyroid Association thyroid nodule management guidelines were simulated in estimating the cost of P-FNA strategy. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists guidelines were simulated for USG-FNA strategy. Total costs were estimated by adding the cost of each diagnostic step to reach a diagnosis for 100 nodules. Strategy cost was found by dividing the total cost to 100. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was calculated by dividing the difference between strategy cost of USG-FNA and P-FNA to the difference between accuracy of USG-FNA and P-FNA. A positive ICER indicates more and a negative ICER indicates less expense to achieve one more additional accurate diagnosis of thyroid cancer for USG-FNA.

RESULTS: Seventy-eight P-FNAs and 190 USG-FNAs were performed between April 2003 and May 2008. There were no differences in age, gender, thyroid function, frequency of multinodular goiter, nodule location and diameter (median nodule diameter: 18.4 mm in P-FNA and 17.0 mm in USG-FNA) between groups. Cytology results in P-FNA versus USG-FNA groups were as follows: benign 49% versus 62% (p = 0.04), inadequate 42% versus 29% (p = 0.03), malignant 3% (p = 1.00) and indeterminate 6% (p = 0.78) for both. Eleven nodules from P-FNA and 18 from USG-FNA group underwent surgery. The accuracy of P-FNA was 0.64 and USG-FNA 0.72. Unit cost of P-FNA was 148 Euros and USG-FNA 226 Euros. The cost of P-FNA strategy was 534 Euros and USG-FNA strategy 523 Euros. Strategy cost includes the expense of repeat USG-FNA for initial inadequate FNAs and surgery for repeat inadequate USG-FNAs. ICER was -138 Euros.

CONCLUSION: Universal application of USG-FNA for all thyroid nodules is cost-effective and saves 138 Euros per additional accurate diagnosis of benign versus malignant thyroid nodular disease.


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