European Radiology

, Volume 22, Issue 11, pp 2397–2406 | Cite as

Shear wave elastography of thyroid nodules in routine clinical practice: preliminary observations and utility for detecting malignancy

  • Kunwar S. S. Bhatia
  • Cina S. L. Tong
  • Carmen C. M. Cho
  • Edmund H. Y. Yuen
  • Yolanda Y. P. Lee
  • Anil T. AhujaEmail author
Head and Neck



To evaluate real-time shear wave ultrasound elastography (SWE) for characterizing focal thyroid lesions in routine clinical practice.


Seventy-four patients with 81 focal thyroid lesions undergoing conventional US with needle cytology also underwent SWE. Absolute and relative SWE stiffness measurements on colour-coded elastograms were correlated with cytology and their discriminatory performances assessed.


Seventeen nodules were malignant (13 papillary, 4 other cancers), 45 benign (43 hyperplastic nodules, 2 focal thyroiditis), 5 indeterminate (“follicular lesions”), and 5 had inadequate cytology. SWE results were higher in malignant than benign nodules (P values 0.02–0.05) although their discriminatory performances were mediocre (AUCs 0.58–0.74). The most accurate SWE cut-off, 34.5 kPa for a 2-mm region of interest, achieved 76.9 % sensitivity and 71.1 % specificity for discriminating papillary cancer from benign nodules. No thresholds produced high sensitivity without lowering specificity appreciably, and vice versa. Nodule size correlated with SWE for benign nodules (P < 0.01). Intranodular cystic change or calcification did not influence SWE. Qualitatively, elastographic artefacts and foci lacking colour elasticity signal occurred in some solid nodules.


Although malignant nodules are generally stiffer than benign nodules, the precision results do not suggest a definitive role for SWE, at present, in identifying or excluding thyroid malignancy.

Key Points

Shear wave ultrasound elastography (SWE) offers new insight into thyroid disease.

Papillary cancers have higher SWE indices (equating to higher stiffness) than benign nodules.

SWE appears limited in terms of identifying or excluding thyroid malignancy accurately.

Vertically aligned elastographic artefacts can occur in thyroid SWE.

Areas lacking SWE colour signal can occur in some solid thyroid nodules.


Ultrasound Shear wave elastography Elasticity imaging Thyroid Diagnosis 



We thank Dr and Mrs Lui Che Woo Special Centre for the Knee, Hong Kong, for equipment support for this study.


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Copyright information

© European Society of Radiology 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kunwar S. S. Bhatia
    • 1
  • Cina S. L. Tong
    • 1
  • Carmen C. M. Cho
    • 1
  • Edmund H. Y. Yuen
    • 1
  • Yolanda Y. P. Lee
    • 1
  • Anil T. Ahuja
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Imaging and Interventional Radiology, Faculty of MedicineThe Chinese University of Hong Kong c/o Prince of Wales HospitalShatinChina

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