Central cervical lymph node metastases in papillary thyroid cancer: a systematic review of imaging-guided and prophylactic removal of the central compartment

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2012 Jan;76(1):131-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2265.2011.04162.x.


Background: Papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) is a common endocrine cancer and commonly presents with lymph node (LN) metastases. The role of surgical removal of the central cervical LN compartment is poorly defined. There are no prospective randomized controlled trials addressing the relevance to the extent of the initial surgical approach.

Design and methods: A systematic review of studies of patients with PTC undergoing either prophylactic or therapeutic lymphadenectomy of the central LNs was carried out. Studies involving imaging modalities in the detection of LNs in PTC were also analysed.

Results: Twenty-one studies contained data on 4188 patients undergoing prophylactic or imaging-guided removal of the central compartment. Imaging-guided surgery retrieved cancerous central LNs in 346 or 30% of eligible patients, whilst prophylactic central neck dissection yielded histopathological proof of cancer in 898 or 26·2% of patients. Five imaging studies revealed data on the use of ultrasound (US) and/or computerized tomography (CT). The sensitivity of US and CT was poor, ranging from 50% to 70% when accurately calculated.

Conclusion: Metastatic central LNs are found in nearly half of all patients with PTC when prophylactic central lymph node dissection (CLND) is performed. With unreliable imaging modalities, prophylactic CLND should be performed on all patients with PTC.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma
  • Carcinoma, Papillary
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / methods*
  • Lymph Nodes / surgery*
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / prevention & control
  • Neck Dissection / methods*
  • Thyroid Cancer, Papillary
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Thyroidectomy