Thyroid palpation versus high-resolution thyroid ultrasonography in the detection of nodules

Philip W. Wiest, Michael F. Hartshorne, Peter D. Inskip, Lida A. Crooks, B. Sylvia Vela, Robert J. Telepak, Michael R. Williamson, Ralph Blumhardt, John M. Bauman, Mare Tekkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


Detection of thyroid nodules by physical examination and high-resolution ultrasonography was compared using small groups of blinded, experienced physician examiners working with a sample of 2441 persons from Estonia, most of whom were Chernobyl nuclear reactor clean-up workers. A random sub-sample of 113 (5%) persons was subjected to triple control examinations with both physical examination and high-resolution ultrasonography. Positive high-resolution ultrasonographic findings were considerably more reproducible among different observers than were positive physical examination findings. Agreement between methods was poor. Nodules were found in 169 (6.9%) subjects by physical examination and in 249 (10.2%) subjects by high-resolution ultrasonography. Physical examination found only 53 (21%) of the 249 nodules found by high-resolution ultrasonography. High-resolution ultrasonography did not confirm the existence of 115 (68%) of the 169 nodules found by physical examination. Only 6.4% of nodules less than 0.5 cm in diameter, as based on high-resolution ultrasonographic results, were detected by physical examination. Physical examination detection improved with increasing nodule size but was still only 48.2% for nodules larger than 2 cm. Physical examination was relatively effective in detecting nodules in the isthmus of the thyroid gland but much less so for nodules in the upper pole of the gland. Clinical evaluation and epidemiologic studies of nodular thyroid disease stand to benefit from the greater sensitivity and specificity of ultrasonographic examinations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-496
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Ultrasound in Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1998


  • High-resolution ultrasonography
  • Nodules, thyroid
  • Palpation
  • Physical examination
  • Thyroid, nodules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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