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Thyroid nodules are very common with malignancies accounting for about 5 %. Fine-needle biopsy is the most accurate test for thyroid cancer diagnosis. Elastography, a new technology directly evaluating the elastic property of the tissue, has been recently added to the diagnostic armamentarium of the endocrinologists as noninvasive predictor of thyroid malignancy. In this paper, we critically reviewed characteristics and applications of elastographic methods in thyroid gland. Elastographic techniques can be classified on the basis of the following: source-of-tissue compression (free-hand, carotid vibration, ultrasound pulses), processing time (real-time, off-line), stiffness expression (qualitative, semi-quantitative, or quantitative). Acoustic radiation force impulse and aixplorer shear wave are the newest and most promising quantitative elastographic methods. Primary application of elastography is the detection of nodular lesions suspicious for malignancy. Published data show a high sensitivity and negative predictive value of the technique. Insufficient data are available on the possible application of elastography in the differential diagnosis of indeterminate lesions and in thyroiditis. Elastography represents a noninvasive tool able to increase the performance of ultrasound in the selection of thyroid nodules at higher risk of malignancy. Some technical improvements and definition of more robust quantitative diagnostic criteria are required for assigning a definite role in the management of thyroid nodules and thyroiditis to elastography.
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