To determine the incidence of nodal involvement and assess the role of elective lymph node (LN) exploration and/or dissection in staging of tumors and treatment of patients with papillary thyroid cancer.
Retrospective medical chart review.
Academic tertiary care medical center.
One hundred patients diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer by fine-needle aspiration or intraoperative frozen section who underwent total thyroidectomy with central compartment cervical LN exploration.
Main Outcome Measure
Incidence of positive LNs in patients 45 years or older (group A) vs those younger than 45 years (group B).
Sixteen (39%) of 41 patients in group A had positive LN status following LN exploration and/or dissection. Seventeen (29%) of 59 patients in group B were found to have positive LNs. According to the American Joint Committee on Cancer staging system, the tumors of 11 patients (28%) in group A would be restaged from stage I/II to stage III after establishment of the positive pathologic nodal status.
Lymph node metastasis was present in the central compartment in 39% of patients in group A. Presence of LN metastasis in older patients has been reported to increase the risk of recurrence of papillary thyroid carcinoma. Furthermore, recurrence and reoperation in the central compartment is associated with a higher risk of vocal cord paralysis. In patients in group A diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma, routine central compartment LN exploration and/or dissection at the time of thyroidectomy is advocated, which allows more accurate staging of tumors and appropriate treatment. Elective excision of central compartment LNs in this older age group may improve locoregional control and possibly reduce morbidity in the long run.