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Abstract

Background

Papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) has a generally favourable prognosis, but elderly patients with distant metastases or extracapsular invasion fair poorly. In small studies with short follow-up, young patients presenting with such extracapsular invasion and pulmonary metastases have faired well. This retrospective study was undertaken to clarify the long-term prognosis of such patients with advanced PTC.

Methods

Twenty-one children and young adults (median age 14 (range 6–20) years) presenting with PTC and pulmonary metastases were treated at a single institution between 1947 and 1998. Mean maximal tumour diameter was 4·65 cm. Initial surgical treatment consisted of total thyroidectomy (n = 16), subtotal thyroidectomy (n = 4) and isthmectomy (n = 1), coupled with a variety of lymph node dissections (n = 20). After operation, 19 patients were treated with ablative and incremental doses of iodine-131 until disease free. All patients were placed on suppressive thyroid hormone after operation. Mean length of follow-up was 21 years (range 3 months to 47 years). Follow-up was less than 3 years in four patients. All patients have undergone post-treatment radionucleotide and radiological evaluation.

Results

Nine of the 21 patients developed recurrent disease. The risk of recurrence at 5 years was 39 (95 per cent confidence interval 14–57) per cent. Eight had cervical lymph node recurrence and no patient developed recurrent pulmonary disease. All patients with identifiable recurrent disease underwent selective lymph node resection, which involved multiple resections in four. At follow-up, 18 patients remain completely free of disease, one patient has recurrent cervical node disease and two patients have died. The disease-free survival at 5 years was 95 (95 per cent confidence interval 86–100) per cent. Cause-specific death occurred in a single patient who died from extensive local disease at age 29 years after 12 years of multiple cervical lymph node recurrences.

Conclusion

A stepwise treatment approach including total thyroidectomy, high-dose iodine-131 treatment and early surgical reintervention for suspected local recurrent disease allows long-term survival and frequent ‘cure’ for young patients with PTC and concomitant pulmonary metastases. © 2000 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd