A delay in the diagnosis of differentiated thyroid carcinoma often leads to larger tumors, higher prevalence rates of distant metastasis, and earlier cause-specific deaths. Threshold tumor diameters for extrathyroidal growth, lymph node spread, and distant metastasis in papillary (PTC) and follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC) remain to be defined.
A comparative correlation of primary tumor size and extrathyroidal growth, lymph node spread, and distant metastasis was performed for 500 institutional patients who received surgery for PTC or FTC.
There were 366 patients with PTC (73.2%) and 134 patients with FTC (26.8%). Multifocality (23.5% vs. 9.0%; P < 0.001) and lymph node metastasis (40.2% vs. 19.4%; P < 0.001) were more common in the patients with PTC than in those with FTC. Patients with FTC were older at first diagnosis (51.6 vs. 47.0 years; P = 0.01) compared with the patients with PTC. The FTC tumors were almost twice as large (39.9 vs. 20.6 mm; P < 0.001), and patients had a higher prevalence of distant metastasis (17.9% vs. 6.3%; P < 0.001). When primary tumor diameter was accounted for, cumulative risks of extrathyroidal growth and lymph node metastasis were higher in patients with PTC than in patients with FTC (P < 0.001; log-rank test). In striking contrast, the cumulative risk of distant metastasis was the same for PTC and FTC tumors of equal size (P = 0.89; log-rank test) and increased once the primary tumor size was > 20 mm. Pulmonary metastasis was an earlier event than bone metastasis.
The data suggested that earlier intervention is warranted to keep suspicious thyroid nodules from growing > 20 mm (or greater than T1) and spreading to distant organs. Cancer 2005. © 2005 American Cancer Society.