Recommend with caution: A meta-analysis investigating papillary thyroid carcinoma tumor progression under active surveillance

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American Journal of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Medicine and Surgery


Background: Papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) is an indolent disease with favorable outcomes. The non-surgical treatment approach known as active surveillance (AS) has been introduced as an alternative treatment instead of the traditional thyroidectomy. However, 10–15 % of PTC tend to progress. We sought to determine factors predicting the progression of PTC under AS. Methods: A systematic search was performed in January 2022 using PubMed, Embase, Google Scholar, Web of Science, and ScienceDirect. PRISMA guidelines were used by multiple reviewers to extract study characteristics (author name, publication date, journal name, country, institution, and study design), as well as main outcomes and measures. A combination of utilization of thyroid replacement therapy, baseline tumor size and volume, follow-up tumor size and volume, and the presence of lymph node metastasis and its distribution, as well as surveillance duration, were the main measures of this study. Results: Nine studies with 4166 patients were included, of which 354 showed tumor progression during AS (15 %; 95%CI = 7 % – 23 %). The average follow-up period was 41.58 months. The mean tumor maximum diameter was 8.54 mm (95%CI = 7.04–10.03). Tumor progression was most commonly secondary to an increase in volume by ≥50 % (75 %; 95%CI = 68 % – 80 %), then increase in diameter by ≥3 mm (41 %; 95%CI = 13 % – 76 %), and finally the development of lymph node metastasis (13 %; 95%CI = 9 % – 19 %). Approximately only 2 % of all patients thus developed new lymph node metastasis. Patient age, sex, and tumor size were not associated with higher risks of tumor progression. 12 % of AS patients eventually underwent surgery, though only 40 % (95%CI = 27 % – 53 %) of these patients displayed tumor progression. Conclusions: Our meta-analysis determined a tumor progression rate of 15 % in patients who underwent AS management, 13 % of which (2 % of all patients) developed lymph node metastasis. We found no protective or risk factors for tumor progression, and that almost half of all patients who underwent delayed surgery did so for reasons other than tumor progression. While not biopsying small (<1 >cm) or very low suspicious nodules is already recommended, AS may be an appropriate treatment option in patients appropriately counseled, considering the low risk of advanced tumor progression but also the considerable patient population who fail to adhere to treatment. Alternatively, in aim of preventing overtreatment in patients who would rather take proactive measures against their low-risk carcinoma, minimally-invasive ablation techniques may be an attractive option.

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