Background. Although fine-needle aspiration (FNA) is 90% sensitive in the detection of papillary carcinoma (PC) of the thyroid, its specificity has been reported as low as 52 %. Consequently, patients who have an FNA suspicious for PC may undergo operation for a benign process. The ribonucleoprotein telomerase has been noted to be activated in a wide variety of carcinomas. We examined 30 PCs for telomerase activity to determine whether this would be a useful adjunct to FNA in the diagnosis of lesions suspicious for PC. Methods. Standard telomere repeat amplification protocol assays were performed on fresh frozen tissue samples from 30 PCs, 3 benign nodules, and 10 normal thyroids. Results. Telomerase activity was documented in 20 of 30 (67%) of the PCs, 0 of 3 benign nodules, and 0 of 10 normal thyroids. In all, 11 of the 20 PCs had FNA cytology that was nondiagnostic of PC, and 2 of the benign nodules had FNA that was suspicious for PC. Conclusions. The telomerase assay appears useful in the distinction of benign from malignant thyroid lesions that have FNA suspicious for but not diagnostic of PC. On the basis of these findings, a prospective trial examining telomerase activity in FNAs suspicious for thyroid cancer has been initiated.
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