It is known that patients with papillary microcarcinoma (PMC) of the thyroid gland have a very favorable prognosis. The rising incidence of PMC among papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) necessitates the identification of prognostic factors and the formulation of treatment protocols.
The authors conducted a retrospective analysis of 203 patients with PMC who were diagnosed on or before 1999 and were treated at the Department of Clinical Oncology, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hong Kong.
The cause specific survival, locoregional (LR) failure free survival, and distant metastases failure free survival rates at 10 years were 100%, 92.1%, and 97.1%, respectively. Five patients had lung metastases; 2 patients died of their metastases 12.9 years and 14.8 years after diagnosis, and 3 patients achieved clinical remission after radioiodine (RAI) treatment. Twelve patients had LR recurrences. Patients with LR recurrence were highly salvageable with a combination of surgery, RAI treatment, and external radiotherapy; all but one (who refused treatment) were alive without disease at last follow-up. Multivariate analyses did not reveal any independent prognostic factor for survival. The risk of cervical lymph node (LN) recurrence increased 6.2-fold (P = 0.01) and 5.6-fold (P = 0.02) when LN metastases and multifocal disease were present at diagnosis. RAI ablation reduced the LN recurrence rate to 0.27 (P = 0.04). The presence of LN metastasis increased the rate of distant metastasis 11.2-fold (P = 0.03). Age was not a significant factor in predicting disease recurrence or survival. Subdivision by tumor sizes ≤ 5 mm and > 5 mm did not affect the outcome, but no patient with tumors ≤ 5 mm had mortality related to PMC.
Despite the overall excellent prognosis for patients with PMC, PMC was associated with a 1.0% disease-related mortality rate, a 5.0% LN recurrence rate, and a 2.5% distant metastasis rate. Therefore, the treatment of patients with PMC should be no different from the treatment of patients with conventional PTC: i.e., complete surgery with consideration for RAI and/or external radiation therapy if poor prognostic factors are present. Cancer 2003;98:31–40. © 2003 American Cancer Society.